December 4, 2014.
The alarm goes off at 6 AM Monday morning, and he drags himself out of bed to get ready for work. It would have probably been easier for him to get up had he not decided to watch half of the third season of House on Netflix last night after coming home from a short church service. After a quick shower and breakfast to go, a forty five minute battle with traffic finally gets him to the office located fifteen minutes from home. The first part of the day goes by rather quietly, as is typical for a Monday morning, and he even finds a few minutes to spare in which he was able to read a few verses in Matthew. No one noticed.
Lunch started off as usual, with three of his good friends at a small table in the cafeteria. The friends pretend that they didn’t notice him close his eyes for a few seconds in prayer before digging in to whatever festive thing the cafeteria has come up with today. The four friends talk and laugh though lunch, discussing different things ranging from politics to sports, and even a few minutes were spent on future plans that each of them had later in life.
After this refreshing break from the mundane work that he had to do, the reality of the second leg of the work day set in, ending in anything but exciting. As he get up to leave, a couple of friends ask him to join them for drinks at a local bar, but he politely declines, commenting that it isn’t really his scene and he needs to get home. Another battle with traffic lands him back home in only 30 minutes this time, where he greets his wife with a smile and sits down in relaxation. At the dinner table they discuss their days, both the mundane and the slightly less-mundane, and some plans for the upcoming weekend. Before bed, they each open their bibles to the place they had left off and read a few chapters. Another quick prayer and it’s lights out, to rest before doing it all over again.
And such is the life of what society might even call a devote Christian today. “I mean, there was prayer, a refusal to go to the bar and he even opened his bible once at the office! He probably felt a little uncomfortable at lunch when he closed his eyes in prayer, but not as uncomfortable as those around him, were sure. Then there was a bible study. How else would you define Christianity?”
I start with this example not to make fun of a day in the life of the average man in America (though I suppose that calling this the average is debatable), but more so to bring to light the point that is raised in that last question asked by society. “How else would you define Christianity?” If you live in America, especially the bible belt, being a Christian is a pretty easy thing to do (at least what society would see as a Christian). You go to church (perhaps even more than on Sunday morning), you say a few prayers and you might even make a side comment about Jesus, the bible or sin here or there. No one really berates you. There’s no real persecution. Actually, in some cases its even encouraged that you be a Christian, as that is what this nation was allegedly founded on. If you become a Christian, you don’t really have to give up much. Sure, maybe it means you have to change a few things- maybe you don’t go out to the bars and you clean up your language some. But in terms of lifestyle, you really don’t have to change much, unless you were involved in a lifestyle that was steep in obvious sin. You might get a side comment from an atheist or agnostic here or there, but in terms of persecution, this is very light.
Let me ask you the question. How hard is it for you to live as a Christian?
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
We live in a age where it is pretty easy to be a Christian. Granted, it may be getting gradually harder, but the steps towards a collective mindset against Christianity are marginal at the present time. The fact is, we don’t really have to do much, nor do we have to give up anything. At least, that’s how it seems. But I ask you, is this the Christianity that is found in the bible? The passage above is taken from the gospel of Luke and it records Jesus’ words on the cost of discipleship. When you read these words, do you get a sense that this new Way is going to be easy or difficult? Are there going to be many who want to go down this path, or will there be few that travel it? Does this teaching sound like one that will easily fit into our current lifestyle, working around our work, family and recreational time?
“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Radical words from a radical Savior. I just watched a sermon about the kingdom of heaven, the good news that Jesus preached during His ministry on earth. “Repent, for the kingdom of haven is at hand!” The cry is heard all throughout the gospels. But have we missed the kingdom of heaven? The point was made in the sermon that for the majority of our week, we serve in our own kingdom. What is our kingdom? The place where we do our will. I do what I want to do. I go where I want to go. I study what I want to study. This is our kingdom, and we live in it quite often.
But can we have citizenship in two different kingdoms? The answer to this is quite obvious in thought, but not so obvious in practice. See, the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom where we serve God and do His will, not ours. Jesus said that we have to renounce all that we have… What does that mean? Does that mean I have to give up my job? My husband/wife? Family/friends? Recreation? The easy answer of “No, of course not,” I think is a bit too simple. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Those are the words of Jesus. If at any point that any of these things becomes a priority over Christ, then we are not being His disciple, but rather we are serving in our own kingdom.
But this point has been made many times, and is generally accepted amongst Christians as the obvious teaching of Christ. So what’s new? If we all believe that, what’s the point in preaching it? Of course Christ is the head of my life. Of course He is the priority. Of course all things come after Him.
Do they? I opened with the story to show that being a “Christian” in our society is not hard. But what would be hard to do is to be a disciple in the way the bible teaches discipleship. When Jesus called the first disciples, He went out in a boat with some fishermen including Peter, James and John. These fishermen had been out all night and caught nothing, but Jesus tells them to throw out their nets once more on the other side of the boat as they were packing their nets away. When they do so, they catch so many fish that they have to call for help bringing them to shore.
“And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”
Simon Peter, who was one of the most zealous disciples of Jesus (this zeal often got him into trouble) immediately recognizes Jesus as deity and confesses himself to be a sinner. When they get to shore, they leave all that they have and follow him. Think about it, that was probably one of the biggest catches they had ever had, but they didn’t even take it to the market! They recognized that someone greater was there, and their priority was fixed on Jesus. Now, in the opening story, where was the priority? Was it on Jesus? Sure, there were elements of Christianity in the story, but were they the focal points? Was Christ the center of that man’s life?
Peter, James and John’s lives would never be the same from that moment when Jesus called them. They would go on to see incredible things and to suffer terrible persecution. They would go though rough patches in their faith followed by moments of triumph. One thing that wouldn’t happen is for them to go back to their normal lives, save at one point when they think that their Lord has been slain, never to return again. It is at this point that Peter says “I go a fishing,” and Jesus again has to call them just as He did in the beginning.
Again I ask, how hard is your life because you wear the name of Christ? Do you suffer persecution? Are you told to quit talking about Jesus often? Do you keep back the good news from your friends and coworkers? I have been thinking about this a lot lately because I have recognized that I am not very good at doing these things. I have recognized that living a “Christian” life has actually been pretty easy for me. In fact, the biggest conflicts I have had with people over Christianity have been with other Christians! What does that say about my zeal for spreading the good news? What does that say about my fear of what people will think about me if I talk about Jesus? What does that say about the prognosis of the church in this age? I assure you that if the church is not growing, it is not because people have stopped listening to the truth. It is because we have stopped teaching it, or we have started to teach it in a very ineffective way. When Christianity was established, it spread like wildfire. Today, it seems to have come to a halt in American society. What’s the difference? An oppressive government? No, if anything we have an encouraging government. Lack of prospects? No, just look around.
The difference is that it isn’t hard to be a “Christian” in America. And because it isn’t hard, we don’t have to be disciples- we can easily be Christians in name. As long as we don’t talk too much about Him, we are free to say our silent prayers, or open our bibles at work. We are free to mention His name as a comforting word to a grieving family. We are free to attend our enclosed services two or three times a week. No one will get mad. No one will persecute. But in turn, we are not developing into disciples, for we are not forsaking all that we have and following Him.
This is a hard lesson to swallow. But the picture of the Christian life that is painted in the New Testament simply doesn’t align with the pictures that our lives paint today. If we are not suffering for the name of Christ, then is there a problem? Maybe there isn’t. Maybe we are just in a very tolerant position in life. But maybe it is because we aren’t talking about Christ as we should. Maybe we aren’t putting Jesus as the priority, but rather marking our Christianity by the place we attend services three times a week. It is time we sit down and take an honest evaluation of where our priorities lie, and if need be, change them.
Let us not let Christ to fall into the background of our lives.
Suggested Daily Reading: Luke 5, 14, John 21, Acts 4.
Be strong in the Lord.