Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said 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 someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:21-27
The story of the rich young ruler always convicts me. I suppose it should convict all of us in the American church, because we are so unbelievably wealthy, whether we know it or not. We all take our turns as the rich young ruler from time to time.
So, as I read this message with new found conviction, and as I start the process of genuine transformation this time around, what happens next in my mind is almost comical. It reminds me a little of this scene from the old Steve Martin movie, The Jerk:
That is exactly the conversation that goes through my head when I start “giving up” stuff for the Lord. When I look around and see how FILTHY RICH I am (by the world’s standards) and start asking myself what I would be willing …
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teachingyou received from us…We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. II Thessalonians 3:6, 11
The last time my studies took me into Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, it was Thanksgiving time a couple of years ago. I remember stopping and thinking about his counsel in those letters and how it might hit the contemporary American church. I found some things for which I was thankful then, and I am still thankful today. Today’s “Tuesday Re-mix” replays those Thanksgiving thoughts.
The American church is probably loaded to the brim with idle Christians. We are a fat, happy bunch of church-goers for whom convenience is among the highest of values. Prayer meeting on Wednesday night? Not very convenient. Sunday night worship service after a full day of church stuff? Not very convenient. Missing soccer games or band practice or sleeping in on Saturday in order to work at the homeless shelter? Not very convenient. Being the “consumers” we are, we just want our Spiritual lives to stay within the very small slice of our week which we have designated for that and, above all, we want God to stay convenient to us.
If Paul visited the American church today, I think he might just have a heart attack when he observed how low a priority our Spirituality has become in so many cases. Don’t get me wrong. There are many, many churches who are getting it right. But let us be honest here, it has been about a hundred or so years since genuine revival swept across our country or since the American …
You may be aware that my ministry has an on-going relationship with churches in South Africa, where our teams go and teach unity principles. Do you see the irony in that? The irony is that anyone from the American church would be teaching South Africans about unity. There are a great many things the American church has done well…but unity is not one of them. In fact, our secular culture of democracy and Roberts Rules of Order, etc. have actually worked against us in that regard. In matters of true Biblical unity, the church in America just does not demonstrate much understanding. Now, if you want to talk about religious liberties and how the church and the government relate to each other in light of those liberties, we definitely have some answers. Our 200 years of our cultural experiment in that area have put us way ahead of the rest of the world. But in the area of unity, maybe not so much.
In a similar way, the South African culture has actually helped that church understand some things about unity. A collection of many different tribes and people groups, South Africa literally had its unity hand forced by the breaking down of Apartheid and the building of a society in a post-Apartheid season. It has been difficult and it has been painful. I suspect most South Africans would say they still have a ways to go. But they have been doing the hard work which unity in their country requires and they understand that it does not come cheaply. Of all the lessons they have learned about unity, I am most impressed with that one. Unity does not come cheaply and it requires a great deal of hard work in order to preserve it. They get …
I’ve never actually seen a moth burn up as a result of being drawn into a flame. But I’ve seen them buzzing around my back porch light enough to get the idea. It is a great illustration for how we are often drawn into the very things that will ultimately destroy us. That has been the experience of the church in America. We fight to obtain the very things that will ultimately weaken us and make us wholly ineffective.
I believe that the spread of Christianity in the early church was attributable primarily to two God-ordained circumstances: (1) persecution from outside the church, and (2) conflict from within, due to the differences among them. Take away the oppression of the Roman government and Christianity does not have a reason to spread beyond Jerusalem except by mere happenstance. Take away the vast cultural differences within the early church, and Christian doctrine never really gets tested and grown and purified, it never develops any of the Spiritual “immunities” to false teaching which it currently enjoys.
It is always funny to me, then, when we in the church spend so much time and energy trying to rid the world of both of these catalysts. The church in America is actually fighting for two things that will kill us: (1) political favor from the outside and (2) homogeneous culture on the inside. I spoke to the second item in my recent post here. I will only summarize that post by saying that, contrary to what many of us seem to believe in the church, diversity is actually our friend, i.e., our strength…not our enemy. But what about the first catalyst? What about persecution from outside the church? History tells the story best.
Historically, Christianity has always grown stronger in the …