NOTE: I figure that before I go on vacation I should write a post. Also, I’ve made this blog “official” after many years and it can now be accessed through www.scottcjohnson.net as well!
I sat in a dark room in the middle of the Amazon rainforest…a room is a generous term…there were no walls, no seats, and a dirt floor; thatched roof. The folks around me were covered in sweat, dirty and looked worn-out. Some had walked all day through the jungle to get there for that evening’s meeting.
We were meeting in the dark on the outskirts of a village in the jungle because we were meeting in an area that was illegal for missionaries to preach. There were lookouts and everything.
As the folks begin to take quietly, it was clear that this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
This was a meeting of church leaders from all over the region, and me, as a young, naïve missionary, was supposed to teach them how to lead churches.
They shared their concerns about members being pulled away by a new cult, others were being harassed by the village shamans, others were being threatened by the government, and all of them wanted answers on how to hold on.
This was one of those situations where you could have heard a pin drop as I looked around the room, and I started to talk about church growth models, numbers, budgets, and success…but the words stopped, and one lady from the other side of the room began to pray…and soon I was in tears.
They didn’t pray in great theological platitudes, but all cried out from their hearts, “Thank you God for loving and saving us, ““O God, we need you!” “Jesus, we give our lives to and for you,” “Jesus, we trust you, wherever you lead.”
They were all weeping before God for over an hour…and the room fell silent…and in the flashes of lightning that were going on outside, I saw dark spots on the dirt floor – they looked like water puddles…and they were…but not from the rain, but from their tears…and I was silenced.
After that trip, I came back, finished up Bible College, and then started the full-time ministry and I was met with quite a different portrait of “church.”
Dark rooms were swapped with impressive auditoriums with theater style lighting. Instead of traveling for miles on foot to worship, we had arrived in hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of cars. Instead of rags and bare feet we came dressed in our finest…instead of sitting on a dirt floor, we sat in cushioned seats. Instead of sweating, we had a state-of-the-art HVAC system.
Remember the story in Mark 10 about the rich, young ruler? He was this young man on top of the world, wealthy, and influential…He was a prime prospect, but even more, he was READY to follow Jesus. Supposedly.
He comes running up to Jesus, kneels down at His feet and says:
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17, ESV)
If I was in Jesus’ sandals, I’d probably think this is our chance! “Read this, believe this, come forward, bada-bing, bada-boom” and it’s a slam-dunk, right? This guy’s going to be a great giver!
Instead, Jesus says something radically different:
“You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:21-22, ESV)
Over the years, I’ve played along, but I cannot do that anymore because I realized that this is where we come nose to nose with a treacherous truth:
We do have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus. We do have to love him in a way that makes our closest relationships of this world look like hate. And it is entirely possible that he will tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor.
Be we don’t want to believe that.
We’re terrified of what this might mean for our lives and so we rationalize and justify, look for loopholes and outs, preform interpretational gymnastics and we say, “Jesus wouldn’t really tell us not to bury our father or say goodbye to our family. Jesus didn’t’ literally mean to sell everything we own and give it to the poor. What Jesus really meant was…”
Here’s where we need to take a time-out because now we’re starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus that we are more comfortable with…
You know, a nice middle-class, American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t’ mind materialism and who would never really ask me to give away everything I own. A Jesus who doesn’t expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all of our best affections. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion and Sunday mornings only. A Jesus who doesn’t infringe on our legal constitutional right, or our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who doesn’t mind my little pet sins and sexual pastimes.
A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous radicalism, and who, for that matter, wants us to be safe and happy. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christianized version of the American Dream.
But do we realize what’s happening at this point?
We are molding Jesus into our image, and into our likeness…and He is beginning to look an awful lot like us, b/c after all that is whom we are most comfortable with.
And the really scary and dangerous thing is that now when we gather in our church assemblies to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible.
Instead, we may find ourselves worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. Instead, we may be worshiping ourselves.
So, starting on June 21st, I will begin teaching about these very hard things because time is short and we have a great work to do. God has given us His commission and His Spirit to accomplish this, we need only abandon ourselves, and pick up our crosses.
See you soon,