Posts tagged ‘servanthood’

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.

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Generosity

“The love of money, we know, is the root of all evil; but not the thing itself. The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it. It may be used ill: and what may not? But it may likewise be used well: It is full(y) as applicable to the best, as to the worst uses.”  — John Wesley, “The Use of Money”

Perhaps the first lesson on becoming generous is that we learn to use money for the good that can come from it. For many, giving and generosity is an impulsive behaviour like throwing some coins into a can next to the cash register while you’re paying for your gas. That is not intentional giving. We read in 2 Corinthians 8: 3-4,

For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints”

That is generosity with intention. It is generosity whose goal is the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Dr David Livingston, missionary and explorer, said “I will place no value on anything I have or may possess except in relation to the kingdom of Christ. If anything I have will advance the interest of the kingdom it shall be used or given away. Only as by giving or using it, I may promote the glory of him who I owe all my hopes in time and eternity.” Another great missionary doctor, Albert Schweitzer said, “One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

These men know how to give and they gave with a purpose: to serve Christ. In this they had the model He made of Himself:

“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something– now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has–not according to what one does not have.” 2 Corinthians 8:9-12

Being A Servant

An often quoted motto of John Wesley is, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this motto over the past few days, and what it truly means. I believe that without ever using the word, Wesley is talking about being a servant. This concept of servanthood is a difficult one in today’s culture. Many seem guided by a different motto: “God helps those who helps themselves.”

This is not at all the model which Jesus gives us. In fact, Christ taught that to serve others was the path to greatness.

“So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:42-45

True Christian service never has as its goal the advancement of self, but rather the advancement of the Kingdom. Christ is set before us as a model for servanthood. Although He was with God the Father from all eternity, He came to serve a fallen, broken, and corrupt world by dying on a cross for our sins. He served so that his death would redeem us. In this a model not just for living as a servant, but also what the mindset of a Christian — of a servant — should be.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.”  Philippians 2:3-8

In light of this, Christian servanthood is less about action than it is about lifestyle. It is not captured in doing acts of service but rather in choosing to imitate Christ by being a servant to others. It might be accurate to say that while it is about striving to be selfless, its even more about thinking less of yourself.

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