It’s really been a lousy week for news stories. Convictions, murders, plumbing problems causing layoffs at some Walmarts (really!)
But the headline that caught my eye was the 12 Christians tossed into the Mediterranean Sea, with little chance of survival. After the slaughter of over 100 Christians in Kenya a few weeks ago, it is a reminder that in some places it is dangerous to be faithful. Sometimes we have to put our lives on the line for the sake of Jesus!
That isn’t anything new. Christians have throughout history paid for their faith with their lives. From other ancient martyrs all the way down to Bonhoeffer and those who opposed Hitler, Christians have had to ask – just how much will I be willing to give up for the sake of Jesus?
Tough question – would I give up my life for my faith? Jesus says I need to be ready to do just that. And why? Because in the odd twists of faithful living, to cling to life is to lose it – and to give up life is to gain it:
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)
How can that be? The power of the cross! In the cross God has acted to “change the game.” Life and death and turned around and upside down. What seems to be death, through Jesus, becomes the way of abundant life that transcends the reality around us. And what we think is life is, in the end, shown to be an illusion. You want real life? Follow Jesus, all the way to the cross!
So, the next time your life is demanded of you for the sake of your faith, give it up, and discover the gift of life through the cross of Jesus!
But, let’s face it, for all the talk of “attacks on Christianity” in this country, my life is not threatened because I show up in church. My life is not in danger.
Maybe not my life, but my faith might be in danger. No, this isn’t about the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, manger scenes in public places, or “Happy Holidays” replacing “Merry Christmas.” That’s all trivial stuff, “small potatoes.” I’m talking about something much more subtle and dangerous. I’m talking about our culture, our sinfulness, and in the end, ourselves.
We live in a culture that attacks our faith constantly. It says that church, worship, and faith are all fine, just don’t get in the way of comfort, luxury, money and power. Do the church thing, but when you are done, leave church – and faith – behind. We can worship God and praise Jesus, but it’s OK then to seek out a life of comfort, even at the expense of others. The highest good is to be happy and to live a satisfying life. A nice home, toys in the garage, the latest electronics, a healthy retirement plan, leisure activities, status and position, getting our own way – all, we are told, fundamental to the good life. If you can get all that (or most of it, at least), you’ve got it made!
Jesus? Not a problem, as long as he knows his place and doesn’t get in the way of the good stuff.
But wait …
There’s more going on here than cultures and societies. This is about something much more basic. This is about sin.
Forget about any particular culture or society “warring” against the Christian faith. This is about us – about you and me – about being human. To be human is to be sinful, and to be sinful is to be against what God is about. Our faith is indeed under assault – from ourselves! And that is what our sinfulness is about.
The fact is we can rail and denounce what we perceive others to be doing to our faith, but in the end, the biggest threat to faith doesn’t come from outside – it comes from within, from our self-centeredness, from our yearning for a faith tells us what we want to hear, a faith that keeps us comfy and satisfied.
Maybe that’s why, despite our best efforts, something remains amiss. We have all we want, we live a good life, and (we think) we have Jesus right where we want him, yet…it’s just not quite there for us. Life remains empty, and we feel a lack of fulfillment.
Maybe what we miss is something that runs deep within us. We miss the life of Jesus, the life of the cross. And so in taking what we can, we miss what we need. We miss Jesus.
That’s why the call of Jesus to pick up our cross and follow him is more than a slogan, or even a challenge. It really becomes a promise – a promise for something more than we can imagine, something we find difficult to articulate, but also something we desperately need. The promise of life, life after death, to be sure, but also life right now. In letting go of our obsession for the “good life” (at any cost), we might just discover good life! Life that might not always look like life, but life that is always nurtured and nourished by Jesus, in the cross, in the resurrection, and in God’s gift of grace.
There are still threats to faith and life. Evil doesn’t go away that easily. But in Jesus there is something greater. Not a life of stuff, $$$, or power, but a life far greater and deeper, a life that cannot be lost, a life held in the embrace of the crucified Jesus.