I guess at times over the years many either overtly or secretly considered me a prophet of doom. Perhaps now looking back it wasn’t totally unwarranted. Not because I ate locusts and wild honey, saw apocalyptic visions or preached imminent doom before sundown “lest ye repent”. However, I guess in a way I just continually felt that many of us (including yours truly as a much younger man) somehow didn’t get the memo that the walk of faith is well…hard.
Yea, there it is; I said it. Now take a deep breath and then exhale.
The Bitter Revelation
And now that we have collectively had our breathing exercise, I guess you could say I’m at least fortunate to have grasped this very central core of the Holy Writ’s teaching early on, although it didn’t serve me well in ministry very much. After all, nobody likes a “Debbie downer”. And though Eeyore is cute and all, you wouldn’t invite him to do a self-improvement seminar. And I get it, I get it. But I was a little troubled in my spirit I guess. For while it seemed most everyone else was preaching “God wants you to be happy and fulfilled”, I seemed to always emphasize the “yeah, but”, or, “maybe not so much”. You see because as I read the ancient writings, what always seemed to rear its ugly, yet substantiated head was the message that perhaps we either missed or simply tore it out before it had a chance to get into us. And the message is, that life is not only difficult sometimes, even many times; but if you decide to add Jesus to your life-cake mix, man oh man; you’re going to have you some TROUBLE! That is, if you actually “believe” and stick around long enough to let that active decision run its course.
This Does Not Compute
You know it’s really no wonder that I ran into some problems seeming to always allow the chicken little in me to take center stage. And I won’t put much fuss up about it. In fact, I remember as a child growing up at the tail end of the Jesus movement, much of what I heard at least in my circles was the “if you gave your life to Jesus everything would be a breeze” kind of message. You know, things like “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” and such and so on. And yet it seemed that every time I decided to follow Jesus and lay myself down and put myself out there, a crucifixion of some sort lay not too far off in the distance. I could pretty much bank on it. And, the more I read, prayed and pondered, the more I couldn’t help but see that this is to be the way of those who embark on the narrow path in some form or fashion. I couldn’t get around it. And even if I had wanted to, my continued reality of unanswered prayers, disappointments, and knives aimed straight towards my back taught me otherwise. And then I realized that somehow or another we’d all been duped. And so, a man named Job became my new travel companion.
So let me just say that I can perfectly understand why no one wants to read Job. Can I get an amen? In fact, it’s the same reason everyone echoes Paul’s prayer in wanting to know “the power of His resurrection”, yet sheepishly leave out the “share in His sufferings” part (Phil. 3:10). It’s tantamount to the Fonzarelli trying to say he’s wrong The Fonz. Not only does it come out incoherent, but we’d rather not do it at all. And the devil knows. That’s why he paid God a visit one day to talk smack about His boy. He came to the Lord and basically said (Mark Prince translation), “Yo God, I mean it’s no wonder why Job serves you and all bruh. You know with that silver spoon he has sticking out of his sheltered behind and all, and his smoking hot (but not so wise) wife and Norman Rockwell picturesque kiddos. I mean come on man. And don’t let me forget, the dude’s got more money than Kanye, and enough land and stuff to isolate himself from any pain the world gives out in good measure. Of course he serves you. I mean sign me up for some of that”! And the Lord said, “it’s your call Lucy; but you can’t take his life”. And then, the rest of the 40 plus chapters show his utter crushing of all he knew, loved and held dear. And then in a New York minute, everything was gone. And then my boy Job, for the exception of having to stomach a few “fair-weathered friends”, and a little mirror-check of his own smidgeon of self-righteous narcissism once hidden; always kept his faith. And in the aftermath, true humility before a Holy God became his permanent abode, and he also still ended up with more money than Kanye! But I’ll leave the rest for you to discover for yourself. Suffice is to say for now, that Job should be Church 101, but instead it is a neglected class whose casualties are far too many to mention here.
The Forgotten Class
Well, wait a minute, before I forget. The Job Church 101 class was once taught. Oh yeah, the early church taught it. They learned it first from Jesus who said, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his own cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34 NET). And so it would be no real surprise that Acts 14:22 tells us the disciples of Jesus were encouraged to “continue in the faith” teaching them that “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions”. Class 101 for sure. And Stephen found out firsthand, and later Paul and Peter, and then the rest of the 12; save John who was exiled to a luxurious vacation spot in Patmos.
But getting back on track here, I’m sure Job was insightful to them as well. But if they had forgotten, their Lord not only told them what it would require to have faith in Him, but He then laid down the gauntlet with spilled blood and a broken body and drinking that ghastly cup. We now have a name for that act in commemoration in fact. We call it the Eucharist, and we are to regularly imbibe it till He come. Symbolic innuendo methinks. And well anyway, Paul reiterated what Jesus taught, and what he taught in his class when he instructed a timid boy named Tim to pass it on to his parishioners when he reminded him, “Now in fact, all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 2:12 NET). And I could go on, but O.K., O.K. Here I go again. Old habits die hard I know. I didn’t mean to bathe you in it. Really, I didn’t. Class dismissed for now.
Time To Get Down To The Heart of the Matter
So back to where we started. I was trying to make the point that it’s not actually called faith if it’s not hard. In other words, the expectation that we can inoculate ourselves from either the world’s pain or the pain of carrying our own cross in this world for this noble cause we profess is a misnomer. It’s gotten us nowhere, and fast. And I don’t mean to say that many good things will not come on the path, and we should pray and believe to that end “always”. And we can encourage each other with much emphasis from the scriptures on this aspect of the Christian life, and we must. I’m simply saying that we must no longer commit the treason of false advertisement when we sell the gospel cheap! Or better yet, when we don’t lay the “good news” out warts and all for people to consider first and foremost. For there was once a man that came to Jesus who blurted out, “I will follow you wherever you go”. And he got an A for that. But Jesus reminded him that “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has not place to lay his head”. To which he retorted something along the lines of “Let me go bury my pops first”, and Jesus, being seeker-sensitive as He was (sarcasm alert) said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God”.
So what we learn is that Jesus told people to “count the cost” of discipleship. Yet from my estimation, it seems we have been guilty of gross misrepresentation for “not” imploring people to do just that. We haven’t told the whole story. And consequently, churches full of “Humpty Dumpty’s” are unaware of the great fall that is to come, or that has already been played out for our viewing displeasure! They are unprepared for the “faith that is hard” phase of their walk that upon navigating through can only then lead them to the forty, sixty and hundredfold of fruitfulness. And because of this much neglected class, perhaps you and I are watching the movie reel of both others and ourselves played out before us right now, quarantined away here in contemplative Coronaville. And just maybe someone forgot to tell us what we needed to know; found both in the scriptures, and also in the sage and timeless words of G.K. Chesterton when he wrote, “The Christian life has not been tried and found wanting but has been found difficult and left untried”.
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus