Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Journey of the Christian Life

Growing up my Father was a traveling technician for the Eastman Kodak Corporation. He would leave our home every morning criss-crossing the State of West Virginia fixing various pieces of equipment at hospitals and banks and schools and many other places of employment. He lived his life for 18 years constantly in the car driving 4-hours for a 10-minute job that often did not require his mechanical expertise. He would arrive home always frustrated at this. He had regularly treaded long and hard on the road to his destination only to change an ink cartridge or to fix a paper jam, problems hardly necessitating a person with a degree in Electronics let alone a person working for a company that charged $70 an hour for his services. His frustration was rarely on the work itself but on the seemingly pointless need for his clients to waste their money on his expertise. But what my Father came to realize after a while was that what most people were paying him for was not to fix their machines but to provide them with an excuse to not work for a little bit. He would often arrive at his destination see that the problem was benign and begin to fix it when he would be approached by an employee, often hearing the refrain, “Take your time. The longer you are here the less work we have to do.” One thing that my Dad noticed about the people who often would approach him with this catchphrase is that year-after-year when he would visit the same offices they would be at the same desk pleading for the same time-wasting effort while those around them who did not see laziness as an attribute they wished to hold would be moving on to bigger and better places because they sought not the contentment of the status quo and the supposed leisure of the world but looked for and accepted the added challenges and extra responsibility that naturally comes with hard work. The passage through life of those who seek to skip life’s harder times begins and ends where they begin. The journey of those who trudge on despite the rigors of hard work and the derision of others leads to the purpose of all life.

In Acts 15:36-41 we read as Paul argues with Barnabus over the inclusion of John Mark into their second missionary journey. Paul ‘s concern about John Mark’s willingness to put up with the arduous nature of the voyage is set in reference to John Mark’s earlier retreat when the going got tough at Pamphylia. Paul has already been the victim of persecution, pain, and pestilence. He knows what it takes to preach the Gospel to those who care not to hear the Truth that Jesus Christ has revealed to Paul and to us. Paul preaches a Gospel the world does not wish to hear and we know from Scripture what happens to those who dare to preach the Gospel as it is presented! We have heard the stories of the Prophets of the Old Testament who tried in vain to preach and teach the Israelites but were rebuked and beaten and murdered. We have read of the account of Steven’s martyrdom in Acts 3. If we learn anything from Paul and the prophets of old we must understand that the Christian life is not meant to be easy, that traveling in the name of Jesus Christ will ensure that you will be rebuked by the world, that false teachers of every stripe will confront you where you stand seeking to snatch you away from the work of Jesus Christ like the sirens who tried to ensnare Jason and the Argonauts always struggling to make you believe there is an easier way, a more rewarding way to live the Gospel; however you must know that you will not be loved by the world for the message of Jesus Christ. This is the message Paul is trying to get across to John Mark and to us in his disagreement with Barnabus; that Christian service and ministry is demanding, and those who will seek to be followers of Jesus Christ should be prepared to go through with it and stick with it to the end. Jesus says in Luke 9:62, “"No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." But beyond the timidity of John Mark where do we see timidity in our own lives? Why do we fear what this world says of us as John Mark did? Where in Scripture do we see anyone with a semblance of the Christian life whose life was not hard and difficult? Why do we think that because we are followers and believers in Christ Jesus that our lives will become simpler and easier?

We must understand that it is precisely because we follow the Gospel that our lives should be troubled and distressed. For the World will do all that it can to persuade us of an easier way, but we must not be turned away from the Path that leads to the Cross. Of course this begs the question why should we even worry about what the world thinks of us for as Christ says in Matthew chapter 28 verse 28,” Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell.” Fear not what this world can do to you for if God is for us who can be against us? Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians praises his persecution as a blessing saying, “[Jesus] has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness " Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It was the mocking and derision of the Gentiles that troubled John Mark and it is this same scorn and contempt that we fear from friends and family. We seek to be friends with the world not charging it with false teaching fearing bruised relationships and being marred with the labels of offensive speech. John Mark as we know from history will one day put his hands back on the plow moving forward eventually traveling in the name of the Lord being martyred for his faithfulness to the gospel in 67 AD. Let us see the example set by John Mark who though at first distracted by the disdain of the world becomes in the end a trusted friend of Peter and Paul. Keeping our eyes focused on the end being not distracted by the wiles and charm of this world seeking only that which leads us to the Promised Land to which Abraham left with Sarah and Lot 4,000 years ago. Let us not worry about this world for as English theologian Thomas Watson says, “Our focus should be on the place that we spend the longest, so therefore eternity should be our scope.” The Apostle Peter says in his first letter, Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. “ (1 Peter 5:6-11)

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