Last summer, I was in Nashville and picked up a very fine little book by Erwin Raphael McManus entitled, The Barbarian Way. I bought the book because I had already stood in the bookstore for fifteen minutes reading it. It was very interesting. That night, I read the remainder of the book.
I love this paragraph from McManus' book:
...To belong to God is to belong to His heart. If we have responded to the call of Jesus to leave everything and follow Him, then there is a voice within us crying out, "Fight for the heart of your king!" Yet, Christianity over the past two thousand years has moved from a tribe of renegades to a religion of conformists....Jesus began His public ministry with a simple invitation: "Come, follow Me." His closing instructions to His disciples can be summarized in one word, "Go!" A quick survey of the modern church would lead you to believe His invitation was "Come and Listen," and his closing mandate would be summarized in the one word "No!" The tribe of Jesus, above all people, should rightly carry the banner, "Forward."
Now I like the sound of that word. "Forward." Unfortunately, I think far too often McManus is correct about today's church. Instead of being a tribe of renegades, we too often become conformists. For many of us, "forward" is not our word. For many of us, "conform" is our word. Think about how often this is played out among us:
We conform to our fears. Consequently, we don't think like many of the early Christ-followers such as those you might read about in Acts. We think low risk. Instead of praying with boldness to God, we fret and worry asking, "What if this or that happens?"
As a result, many of us have come to expect following Christ to be a safe, non-threatening, bland lifestyle. Low risk seems to be normal Does this sound like the life of one who is serious about the kingdom of God?
We conform to our desire for comfort. What about pain, discomfort, or suffering? Could it be that these comfort disturbers might just be a part of our lives if we thought more in terms of kingdom living? Could it be that faithfully following Jesus might just mean that I live on the other end of comfort? Those of us in the United States know what it is to live in a very affluent nation. For many people (and for many Christians) life seems to be about buying bigger and better toys. Yet, is comfort what the call of Jesus is about?
We conform to our desire to be praised by others. Jesus warned of this temptation in John 5. Yet, far too many Christian people, including many Christian leaders, place the applause of people above the applause of God. This is seen over and over in churches of all flavors as church leaders place an inordinate amount of energy dealing with unhappy church members. Far too often, we do not seriously wrestle with the question, "Is Jesus pleased?" Instead we seem far more concerned about the latest criticism.
We talk with our children about "peer preasure" but fail to admit at times just how much pressure we may be under to please people. Some of us may feel no pressure at all. We may be so used to living for others' applause that it seems "normal." Yet, when I place gaining someone's approval above the approval of Jesus, I have begun to sell out.
We can either choose to pursue comfort or we can choose to go forward. How we grapple with this may reflect how serious we are about following Christ.