Posts tagged ‘Kingdom of God’

What Are We Giving?

This week, my friend Michael Perkins wrote on consuming and contributing over at his blog Drip Jesus. Now let me be quick to assure you — as Michael himself does in his post — that this is not a post about tithing.

As we continue in this first week of the Lenten season, I’m struck by a couple of things that Michael writes. First is this:

We are a consumer driven society.

We consume, consume, and then consume some more.

  • We consume media. (Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter)
  • We consume art. (Books, Poetry, and other forms)
  • We consume church. (I just want to be fed. I don’t have time serve)

And we never give anything back. We never contribute.

  • We don’t add to the discussion.
  • We don’t create art.
  • We don’t pour ourselves into the lives of others.

I’ll be honest that my initial reaction to this was to think Michael was being unnecessarily harsh, but the more I reflected on this, the more I realized what he was getting at. If we call ourselves Christians, how can we possibly stand in a position in which we seek to be served rather than to serve others? To do so is to live life in opposition to the example and teachings of Christ, who was pretty clear on the subject.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

So the standard is pretty clear: we’re created to give, not receive. And that’s where Michael hit several nails on the head with his post.

  • We’ve been created to give our lives. (To the One that created us)
  • We’ve been created to give our abilities. (To the One that created us and to help further the Kingdom)
  • We’ve been created to give our stories. (To others that they may be encouraged)

A few years ago Dr. Jesse Middendorf, a General Superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, issued a challenge at our annual district assembly. “How deep is your “yes” to God?” He wanted those who heard this challenge to consider if they were truly giving their all: all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their everything to the Kingdom of God.

In years past, as we entered the season of Lent, I’ve decided on one thing or another that I was going to give up for Lent, and while I don’t regret doing that, I wonder at this point in my spiritual life if I’m not doing that more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. I begin to wonder if isn’t better to start something instead of giving something up, if it wouldn’t be better for me to begin a new spiritual discipline that I take beyond the 40 days of Lent. I wonder what I am truly giving to the Kingdom, and if it’s really all that I can be giving to my Lord Jesus. J.B. Chapman once exhorted Nazarenes to be all out for souls, and that is the life I would lead and all too often am afraid that I am not leading in the least. So during Lent, I will be considering what it is that I am giving to the building of the Kingdom, and what further I can give of myself for His glory.

What are you giving?

The Cost of Following Jesus, Part Two

This is part two of a three-part series.

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? There are those who have come before us who have understood clearly that we follow Jesus at some price. German pastor and theologian Dietrich Boenhoeffer was one who understood this very clearly. Bonhoeffer was among the few in the German church who publically opposed the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler. Although friends in England got him out of Germany, his conscience told him that he could have no part in helping to rebuild and heal Germany after the war ended if he did not share in his fellow Germans’ sufferings. His leadership within the state Church the Nazi party was trying to destroy, and his close ties to individuals who plotted to assassinate Hitler led to Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment in a concentration camp and eventual death by hanging.

The writings of Bonhoeffer can be a bit weighty. I’ll go so far as to let you know that outside of the Bible, I have not read any work as convicting as his best known work, The Cost of Discipleship. Although first published in 1937 it is almost frighteningly contemporary in the topic it addresses, especially when set against our post-modern culture. Bonhoeffer lambasted the idea that intellectual assent to belief in Jesus was sufficient. In speaking to the true price of following Jesus, Bonhoeffer decried what he saw as “cheap grace.” Cheap grace, according to Bonhoeffer, “means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.”

Let me break this down for you, because this is something that has become pervasive. We continue to battle today in the Church against the idea that you can say “I believe in Jesus, and I know he forgives my sins,” and yet not turn away from that sin! The cheap grace Bonhoeffer wrote of is a grace that is assigned to us by ourselves, not by God. It’s a grace that requires no change in our lives. We have those who profess themselves Christians today who have bought this hook, line, and sinker without any knowledge of how false it truly is. Cheap grace means proclaiming yourself forgiven without ever having bothered to throw yourself on your face before the Lord and repenting of your wickedness. Cheap grace means proclaiming yourself a saint without having bothered to give up being a sinner. Bonhoeffer called it “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” What a sad, pathetic “grace”.

The rich young ruler sought a cheap form of grace. While his desire to gain eternal life may have been genuine, he wanted it on his own terms. He mistook the outward display of righteousness – following the commandments – for righteousness itself. For him, it was simply about following a list of rules. When presented with God’s terms, when asked to turn his whole life over to God, he turned away. But it doesn’t work that way. We cannot come up with Christianity on our own terms.

You cannot call yourself Christian and continue to live a sinful lifestyle. Simply saying that you believe in Jesus does not make you a Christian, anymore than walking into Taco Bell makes you a chalupa, people. If you are Christian, the life you lead must reflect that. If you are Christian, you cannot continue to fill your head with all manner of ungodly things from TV or movies or magazines. A Christian lives a life in which they die to self. A Christian seeks a life of service, not a life of self-gratification. A Christian lives a life in which they allow the Holy Spirit to be their guide … not the prevailing culture.

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? In 1945, the Communist party in Romania convened a conference of 4,000 of the country’s religious leaders. Many of these leaders, afraid for their lives, proclaimed that there was no difference between Christianity and Communism – despite the fact that in every country where it had taken root, Communism had dedicated itself to destroying faith in Jesus. In the midst of this shameful display, a pastor named Richard Wurmbrand took the stage and proclaimed, “Delegates, it is our duty not to praise earthly powers that come and go, but to glorify God the Creator and Christ the Savior, who died for us on the cross.”

Richard Wurmbrand would spend much of the next 20 years in prison for his faith, where he was repeatedly beaten, tortured, and brainwashed.

“When we were first put into solitary confinement,” he wrote, “it was like dying. Everyone of us lived again his past sins and his neglects of duties. We all had an unimaginable pain in our hearts thinking that we had not done our utmost for the Highest, for the One who has given His life for us on the Cross.”

“After years of solitary confinement, we were put together in huge cells, sometimes with 200 0r 300 prisoners in each cell. I will not tell you the whole truth, because you could not bear to hear it. But this I will tell. Christian prisoners were beaten, then tied on crosses for four days and four nights without interruption. The Communists then stood around them, jeering and mocking, ‘Look at your Christ, how beautiful He is, what fragrances He brings from heaven.’ Then they kicked the other prisoner, forcing them to kneel down and to adore and worship this besmeared living crucifix.”

Years later, Wurmbrand would describe how he was kept imprisoned for so long, without a book to read or paper to write on, that when he was eventually released and had to write again, he could not remember how to write a capital D. In 1965, after his final release from prison, Wurmbrand testified in Washington, D.C., before the United States Senate. Many of the Senators would remember with horror for years the moment that Pastor Wurmbrand stripped to the waist and revealed eighteen deep torture wounds. Until the day he died, he could not wear shoes for any great length of time, because his feet had been so damaged by the tortures he endured.

At the beginning of his time in prison, Wurmbrand was ordered to write out a confession of all the Communist rules he had broken. Although he willingly signed, he ended with a declaration that he had never spoken against his torturers, saying that He was a disciple of Christ, who had given him love for his enemies. He wrote also that he prayed for their conversion, that they might be his brothers.

The Communist officer who had forced him to write his confession jeered at this declaration, telling Wurmbrand that this was a Christian commandment that no one could keep. Wurmbrand’s reply to this man who had the power to have him killed in an instant was simply, “It’s not a matter of keeping a commandment. When I became a Christian, it was as if I had been reborn, with a new character full of love. Just as only water can flow from a spring, so only love can come from a loving heart.”

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand had many other encounters with that particular officer during his time in prison, and in time would come to have the privilege of leading the officer to Christ, but that is a story for another time. Today, I want to talk about the price that Richard Wurmbrand was willing to pay for following Jesus. When we consider the cost of his following Jesus, there was nothing cheap about it. Wurmbrand lost years of his life, not just in terms of time with his wife, family, and friends, but in his very health. At any moment, it could all have been restored to him, simply by acceding to the Communist wishes that he stop proclaiming the Word of God. Yet Wurmbrand was willing even that he should lose His life in order to truly follow Jesus.

The third and final part of this series will examine more about how Bonhoeffer and Wurmbrand accepted the cost, and conclude with some questions and challenges about whether you or I are doing the same.

The Cost of Following Jesus, Part One

This is the first part of a two to three-part series.

I did not have an interest in music – other than listening to it – until I was a  sophomore in high school, and then I dived into the deep end of the pool. In  the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I  learned to play saxophone, and then during my junior year of high school I  more or less taught myself to play guitar. The guitar I learned to play on was  a beat up old classical guitar loaned me by a friend, but I never think of that  as my first guitar.  My first guitar was an acoustic/electric Takamine, with a  glossy black finish and white detailing. I named the guitar Johnson, after a  famous blues musician, and I paid $600.00 for him at Currier’s Music Store,  which even today seems to me an enormous sum for a 17-year-old to spend  on anything. I paid $600.00, but that doesn’t begin to describe what I really  paid for that guitar. The real cost was a sacrifice of time spent with friends while I worked odd jobs. The cost was not having the money for getting a bite to eat with the gang I hung out with, or not being able to buy a new biker jacket, or a t-shirt from one of the bands I liked. The cost was staying in my room at home instead of cruising because I didn’t want to waste money on gasoline for my car that I could put towards my guitar. Johnson was costly, people.

I think that the generation in which I have found myself born is one that for the most part has never understood the true cost of things. It’s a generation that feels a huge sense of entitlement, and whatever it is that we’re supposed to be entitled to, we want it NOW, without any waiting! In previous generations this was not so. My late grandfather lived through the Depression, and until the illness which eventually killed him, seemed physically incapabable of inactivity for so much as a day. He spent most of his adult life as a bus driver in New York City, and continued to drive a school bus after his retirement. Even when he eventually stopped driving, he was constantly working, whether it was making some small repair in his home, or building some small item for a neighbor. Those who have come before us understood a connection between desiring something – whether it was tangible, such as food, or intangible, such as knowledge – and the price required to acquire it, a connection that seems more tenuous as time progresses. The blacksmith at his forge was standing there because he had served an apprenticeship of 7 or more years, an apprenticeship measured in his own sweat, and blood, and tears. The doctor treating patients walks the corridors of a hospital because he has served a different sort of apprenticeship of 8-10 years, years of endless studies and sleepless nights spent as an intern before being allowed to don the white jacket proclaiming him as a healer. The professor at a university is entitled to his podium in the lecture because he has gone through 4 years of undergraduate work, followed by 4-6 years of graduate studies, followed perhaps by yet more years of study and work on a doctoral dissertation which he must then defend before a panel of experts in his field of study. There was a price which the blacksmith, the doctor, and the professor paid to earn their place in society.

Today, I want us to consider a simple question: is there a cost to follow Jesus?

“And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first.”   Mark 10:17-31

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? As Christians, we tend not to think this is so. After all, He paid the price for us, did he not? He died on the cross for us, as a sacrifice for our sins. We didn’t do anything to earn that sacrifice, nor was there anything we could have done. It was a gift that God gave to all humanity – His own Son, brutally murdered that you and I might gain eternal life. The apostle Paul bids us knows that if we but confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. Doesn’t sound like much cost to you and I, does it? The story of the rich young ruler, found in three of the four Gospels, teaches us differently. The moral of this tale is that following Jesus is costly.

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? As Christians, we tend not to think this is so. After all, HE paid the price for us, did he not? He died on the cross for us, as a sacrifice for our sins. We didn’t do anything to earn that sacrifice, nor was there anything we could have done. It was a gift that God gave to all humanity – His own Son, brutally murdered that you and I might gain eternal life. The apostle Paul bids us knows that if we but confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. Doesn’t sound like much cost to you and I, does it? The story of the rich young ruler, found in three of the four Gospels, teaches us differently. The moral of this tale is that following Jesus is costly.

The rich young ruler is distinctive in the New Testament as being one of the few figures of authority who demonstrates legitimate interest and concern in the afterlife. The nature of his question to Jesus indicates that he had prior knowledge that Jesus was offering eternal life to those who followed him. Although there are those who question the ruler’s sincerity, he genuinely seems to want to know how he can gain salvation. Jesus’ answer treats the question sincerely; our Lord responds by quoting the Ten Commandments. He refers to commandments six through nine, and then cites the fifth commandment. As we examine the passage, note that all these are commandments dealing with relationships with other people. Know that in Jewish tradition, citing any portion of a passage implies the context of the entire passage. By citing commandments dealing with relationships with other men, Jesus by implication is also citing commandments dealing with relating to God. This is important in answering our question.

As sincere as the rich young ruler is, his response shows his misguidedness. “All these things I have kept since my youth,” he says, displaying a certainty that he has the ability to live a righteous life on his own. Although I don’t believe it to be arrogance, the young ruler displays a sort of boastfulness in his own piety, as if to say, “Look how long I’ve been keeping the commandments!” He’s misguided because he thinks that simply doing commandments is the way to a relationship with God. As someone who grew up in Judaism, and has brought the Gospel to the Jewish people, let me make something clear: it is not about doing the commandments. What was the one thing which Jesus told the young ruler he lacked? He was lacking a heart that was truly, wholly and completely given over to God. Jesus’ invitation to come and follow Him was a test of where the young ruler’s allegiance truly lay; it was a call for him to sacrifice his wealth for his faith. Understand that Jesus’ command to the young man is not a call for all people in all times to give up all they own, but it was God’s will for this ruler. He went away sad because the cost of following Jesus, the cost of eternal life, was all that the young ruler believed was important in this world. His reliance ultimately was not on the Lord; he drew comfort from his possessions rather than his God.

In part two of this series, we’ll discuss the price which some have paid for following Jesus. Look forward to some thoughts on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Richard Wurmbrand in particular.

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