Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A defining moment

Sir Ernests Shackleton and the Crew of ENDURANCE


I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost -

I read another blog today that reminded me of an old quip: "There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who divide the world into to groups and those who don't."

With all the wisdom of his divine nature, Jesus made the true division: Those who choose the broad, flat and easy way in life; and those who choose the narrow, steep and difficult way. He called his followers to choose the narrow and more difficult way. The way that is disciplined, generous, thoughtful and perseverent over a life time. "Therefore, choose the narrow gate that leads to life." Matthew 7:13,14

William Barclay, the great Biblical commentator once wrote, "all life concentrates on man at the crossroads." He was right you know. We are called to choose hundreds of times a day. "How will we use our time? Who will I reach out today? Should I help that homeless person by the side of the road? I wonder if I should buy this item." Choices...sometimes we make good choices. Sometimes we make bad choices. Sometimes the choices are inconsequential really. After all, in the long term does it really matter what color socks I choose to wear today or which route I should take to work?

The Bible indicates that the believer is regularly confronted with choices that do make a difference - an eternal difference; not only for themselves but for others.

Moses, delivering his last sermon to the Israelites before they passed over into the promised land, was inspired by God to challenge them, "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death blessings and curses. Now choose life...for the Lord is your life and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
(Deuteronomy 30: 19,20)

Standing at a crossroads; a time of choice and a time of great opportunity, God's people could have chosen to believe the reports of the spies sent out earlier who came back and reported "giants in the Land." (Deut. 1:19 - 25) Though easier in the short run, this choice would have resulted in death and curses. The choice of blessing and life, on the other hand would turn out to be fraught with great challenge.

Choices aren't always easy.

And so Jesus, as he preaches about the way his Kingdom People should live, addresses the point in the seventh chapter of Matthews Gospel. It is nearing the grand climax of the Sermon on the Mount and he is summarizing the teachings he has already put forth: that blessings belong to those the world considers to be of no account; that one can only experience forgiveness from God and others if they are willing to be merciful and forgiving of those who have hurt and offended them. He has reminded his hearers that they should first take the 2x4 out of their own eye before they worry about the speck of sawdust in their neighbor's eye; and that there is no reason one of Jesus' followers should ever worry about the things that God alone, by virtue of God's gracious providence, can provide.

And so he begins this passage (verses 7 - 12)with an exhortation to keep asking, seeking and knocking because God is a loving God and like a father will give generously to his children that for which they ask, that for which they knock, and that for which they seek.

We want God - no we pray for God to be generous with us and to answer our prayers. Jesus adds a little bon mot here though. He says, "in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you." This is an echo of the forgiveness theme. We want to be forgiven? Then we should forgive. We want God and others to be generous to us? We should treat them that way. Or, as it was often expressed in its negative form, "I must not do to others that which I would object to their doing to me." That really doesn't do justice to this "Golden Rule" of faith.

Too truly follow the spirit of this rule and not just the letter, one can only do as they are compelled by the love of Christ. As Barclay says, this will clearly make that person's life more complicated for he/she will have less time for self and will, by choice of following Christ in the narrow difficult way give up what he/she wants to do or is doing, to do what he/she is being led to do as a disciple of Jesus.

Bob Pierce, the founder of the great Christian Relief agency WORLD VISION, used to pray, "Dear God, please break my heart with the things that break the heart of God."
As Jesus put it, "treat others the way you would expect God and others to treat you."
That is not easy. It is a road less traveled. It is the narrow, steep way.

One of my favorite stories revolves around Sir Ernest Shackleton's third attempt to reach the South Pole aboard the ship ENDURANCE. The year was 1914 and he was having a difficult time finding a crew who were willing to make the journey simply for the fame or financial reward and so he posted the following notice in the London Times:


That is the adventure that Christ calls his followers to embrace. Wouldn't you agree that it is a far cry from the promises of prosperity and ease that we hear so much of in the "American church" today. Christ's call is a call to rugged, costly discipleship. It is a call to take up the cross of Christ and deny one's self. It is not just the narrow way of correct "christo-centric" doctrine. Many people wear that mantle. The challenge is living that out because the way we live is the truest indicator of what we truly believe.

No, the narrow way is following Christ to the cross with a spirit and mindset of selfless love. “Have this same attitude in you that was in Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider his equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…and became obedient even unto death.”

Be careful what you ask for. When you ask and seek and knock at God’s throne, he will always give you what you need and what is best for you. For those who seek to live as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, that means God will give you the opportunity and the challenge of following the difficult and narrow way of generosity, forgiveness, service, sacrifice and obedience. And you will be the better for it. It will lead to life.

Life or death? Blessings or curses? A narrow way that leads to life or a broad way that eventually leads to death and stagnation. You Choose!

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