Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 4

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It Does Not Envy.

            ‘Two neighbours came out together to tender their petitions to the god Jupiter,’ describes one of Aesop’s tales entitled “Greed and Jealousy.” The two wanted their heart’s requests to be granted. The one neighbour was full of greed, the other consumed by envy. As the fable goes, Jupiter granted that each might have their request on the condition that the god would also give the alternate neighbour double the first one’s request.

The greed-filled neighbour began by praying for a room full of gold. The deity provided it and, as promised, furnished the other with two rooms full of the same. Now it was the envious neighbour’s turn. Envy not only covets, it cannot bear to think of another having more pleasure than itself. So, in spite of the two rooms of gold now at his disposal, the man devoured by envy prayed to have one of his own eyes blinded. What kind of request was that? It was an entreaty of a man ruled by envy to ensure that his neighbour would never be able to enjoy the beauty of his single room of gold.

“Envy,” explains author Chris Webb (“God-soaked Life”), is an example of “misdirected love. (Envy) can’t abide the idea of being exceeded by others.” While Aesop’s fable describes the extremity of one man’s envy against another, envy also insinuates itself into our lives in quieter, less obvious ways. It camouflages itself so that we are slow to recognize it, loath to acknowledge it and to do whatever it takes to remove its influence over us.

When we caution a friend to avoid certain new opportunities, we may be expressing envy by attempting to foil their success. When we share with others intelligence regarding the weaknesses of a common friend, envy may be our hidden motive. When we view others’ excellences with criticism or bitterness and are secretly happy to see them fall, envy is at the root of our reaction. For some, envy expresses itself in purposeful endeavors to discredit even God Himself. But as in Aesop’s fable, envy always consumes and eventually destroys its host.

The ‘Love Chapter’ of I Corinthians 13 is God revealing to you and me the tendencies of the human heart. It reveals the parameters of His idea of love—love that is directed in a uniquely non-destructive way. So while the Apostle Paul has begun his text with the placid phrases, “Love is patient, love is kind,” he now moves to aim his pen into the territory of our innate human vices, beginning with envy. Envy is love twisted inward. Envy is submitting to a greater disposition toward self than toward others. Envy wants self to rule supreme, and all others to be lesser.

But godly wisdom coaches us to see envy for what it is and to deal with it as with a mortal illness. As the Apostle Paul puts it in another epistle, envy arises out of “foolish(ness), disobedien(ce), dece(ption) and enslave(ry) (to) all kinds of passions and pleasures” (Titus 3:3). Those are hard truths to hear. But there’s more. He goes on to present the means of dealing with envy in our lives. Here it gets very personal; not everyone is willing to get so personal, so relational. He tells us we must embrace Christ’s redeeming grace and mercy, admit we’ve practiced a warped version of love and instead accept Christ’s version. He explains we need to make use of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit who gives us rebirth, renewal, and does a slow but complete clean-up in our lives.

Then we begin a process of learning a new kind of love, love arising out of the infinitely complete love of God. This love is called wise because it accounts for infinite reality and results in true human fulfillment in relationship with God and others. It “is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

So let’s take a deep breath and make a mental note to be alert to envy this week. Let’s ask God for eyes opened to our own envious thoughts, maybe even words and actions. Let’s acknowledge our sin, recognize the grace of Christ that heals us, and nip in the bud every bit of envy that tries to entangle us. God is faithful and wants to work in us the kind of love that Jesus’ life expresses. It’s the kind of love by which a human being like you and me can be transformed. It’s God’s love.

(Photo Credit: By Agnico-Eagle – Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16231250)

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Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 3

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Love is Kind.

What is love? Singer-songwriters—those who have the social contract for reflecting on what our culture understands as love—agree: Love is “what you do to (or for) me.” Artists illuminate the popular conception. Love, they cry, is what we get from our special other. Love is how they make us feel when our relationship is budding. Love is the passion and attraction and pounding heart rate their presence instills within us. Yes, we’ll return the favour, but we’ll only persist if we keep receiving the incoming sensations of ‘what they do to us.’

So when the Apostle Paul follows his “love is patient” tag from I Corinthians 13 with “love is kind” we may feel surprised, maybe even a little disillusioned. Love is…‘kind’? Kindness sounds so anticlimactic, so monotonous and mundane—a bit like the word ‘nice’. It was bad enough Paul began with love is patient, does he now think that love being kind will inspire us to expressions as grand as we imagine love ought to be?

To help us solve this dilemma, let’s explore kindness using the same template with which we investigated patience. With patience we began by pausing and simply acknowledging God’s existence, by recognizing that God is. Let’s do that again. Then we went a step deeper in step two, exploring how God exemplifies patience. So now we can ask the question in reference to kindness: Is God kind?

“The LORD is compassionate and gracious (another word for kind), slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8); “…the riches of [God’s] kindness, tolerance and patience…God’s kindness leads you toward repentance…” (Romans 2:4); “…[God’s]glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:6).

We are beginning to see the picture. God is kind and there is nothing mundane or monotonous about kindness. It is full and rich, creative and expressive, helping and healing. God speaks kindness, He acts kindness, He exudes kindness. The vast extent of His kindness is expressed in history’s focal moment: Jesus’ sacrificial and redemptive death on the cross. This kindness—completely unmerited by us—absolves us from the guilt of our rebellion against Him. This is the epitome and climax of everything the word kindness entails. Inhale that thought and we find the ‘love is kind’ concept expanding beyond our human conception. Christ enters our world and conquers spiritual death out of kindness for you and me.

Then comes step three. Let’s do as we did with patience. Let’s apply it. Let’s take the concept of kindness revealed to us through God’s Word and let’s do it. Be it. Kindness is no longer the bland, pedestrian image of an old woman feeding pigeons in Central Park; it is the Christ’s-love-motivated ambition to meaningfully touch others’ lives for good. And we are not called to show kindness only to the weak and helpless. We are summoned to be kind to the tiresome, obnoxious and maddening individuals in our lives—our enemies, for want of a better word. Jesus commands it.

“I tell you, love your enemies,” He challenges us. “Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind” (Luke 6:35,36).

Did you catch the overarching rationality of living out kindness? Jesus says it is our God-created identity to be kind. As the Old English root of the word explains, kindness is tied to our identity. It reaches out “with the feeling of relatives for each other; natural, native, innate.” To be kind is to treat others as if they were kindred hearts, beloved members of one’s family. We must begin to think of others with grace and acceptance—perhaps as if they were our younger brothers and sisters.

And what will be the result of kindness?

Kindness works somewhat like forgiveness does—it changes the doer sometimes more than the recipient. Kindness changes us from trivial to sincere, from judging to just, from self-centred to selfless. It molds our character into becoming more Christlike as we practice kindness in our day-to-day lives. How do we learn to be kind? By studying Christ’s life. By reading it, meditating on it, eating, drinking and sleeping it. By submitting to Christ’s Spirit who wants to live out kindness through us we become Christ’s healing hands and feet to those with whom we connect—but only when we are kind.

So as we step into the foray of the day’s appointments, interruptions and interactions with an assortment of people—people we want to learn to love—let’s not forget the simple opportunities for kindness that suggest themselves to us. Patience calls us to slow down and wait; kindness calls us to step up and enter into. We do patience and we do kindness little by little. Each small success enables us to try next time with more skill. This is how the kindergarten of love works. Are we up for today’s lesson?

(Photo Credit: By Christopher Walker from Krakow, Poland (The Old Lady and the Birds) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 2

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Love is Patient.

We’re asking, “How do we love the culture around us—co-workers, neighbours, friends, family, those who offend us, those who reject us, those who may even be changing our culture for the worse—how do we love them in a way that pleases God?”

We’ve seen what love is not. It is not big talk, brassy proofs, or bold campaigns—not that big, bold productions are necessarily bad. Look at God’s intrepid exhibition in creating the universe: stars, planets and moons flung into vast, meteoric order so that one small planet could sustain life. That’s mettle with infinite love at its core. But we’ve observed that when we humans try to replicate the show, it comes from a heart of fear: fear of being found out as frauds, fear of failing, fear of missing out, fear of not realizing our unique selves.

We are infatuated with the idea of love; we think expressions of passion and stagings of happy-ever-after romantic matches are love. We think love is something we fall into, something of which we are passive recipients, something we must release with open hands when we no longer feel its fire. We use the idea of love to justify actions that promote our own satisfaction regardless of the long-term consequences.

In what colours does the ‘Love Chapter ‘of the Bible paint love? If we still expect a pyrotechnic revelation of love, we’re in for a shock. Rather than love as the roar of a waterfall, we’re shown it as the whisper of a hummingbird’s wings. “Love is patient,” the Apostle Paul begins. The words painstakingly inked onto the original papyrus would have taken no small amount of determination to inscribe. The grain of the stripped, flattened and glued papyrus leaf would have tended to draw the ink in strange directions like bicycle wheels caught in a rut, careening off their intended path. It took resolution to write those words. It took patience.

But patient writing with ancient inscribing materials is nothing compared to patient loving. Patient loving, explains the Apostle, must persevere against the grain of our natural earth-bound inclinations. What is patience? How do we begin to grasp the facets of this complex and difficult-to-practice aspect of love?

Patience begins with looking at God, with recognizing the vast eternality of His existence. “Be still and know that I am God,” He commands through one of the psalmists. To be patient is to be stilled and silenced in awe of the One who is Supreme. He is. Inhale the thought of Him.

Next, patience grows through learning about the patience of God Himself—the perfect, ultimate form of patience. “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” explains another psalmist. One of the breathtaking results of reading through Scripture is seeing examples of God’s great patience in the lives of ordinary folk—people like you and me. You and I are the Adams and Eves, the Abrahams, Sarahs, Rebeccas and John Marks of this century. Like them, we stumble along making messes that God patiently works through to align history with His great plan to bless this world. God never tires of taking us back into His arms after each of our breakaway attempts to do things our way. He patiently heals the wounds with which we’ve pierced ourselves, helping us understand the beauty of soul He desires to create in us.

And finally, perhaps most, difficult, patience matures when we step into the lives of others, when we treat them with the sort of patience God has shown us. Practicing patience means no one is beneath us because we recognize how far God has reached down to us time and time again to lift us up. Practicing patience is seeing all people as inherently valuable—nothing they say or do can change our mind that they are made in God’s image. No wound they inflict is unforgiveable. Practicing patience is…practicing. It is a trial-and-error sort of loving, recognizing we ourselves are imperfect, and that while our attempts to love are imperfect, we will keep on trying. For those who have submitted themselves to the Lordship of Jesus, there is the inside help of His Holy Spirit, counseling us, awakening our consciences, moving us into situations where patience is required. For those who have not His Spirit, patience is a much more difficult virtue to practice.

If we want to love we must grow patient. We must look at God and His great patience with us; we must turn outward to express that patience to those who need love: our families, friends, peers and co-workers, drivers on the roads of life, people online and off the political centre—none are immune to the loving effects of patience. God be with you.

(Photo Credit: By “Mike” Michael L. Baird, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3593420)

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 1

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What Love is Not.

A plethora of ethical and moral causes pulls at our hearts and consciences. Social media is full of it. Attempts to rescue endangered species, stop pipeline expansions, damn intolerances, tax polluters, and challenge our passive disinterest inundate the news. How do we determine which petitions and persuasions should take hold of us and move us to act? Some sound far-fetched but many sound so good. There is something within us that wants to be part of goodness winning over vice, of justice prevailing, of culture being reinvigorated or reinvented. We may even feel deep inside that our justification for living will never be truly realized until we have impacted our culture in a noteworthy way.

It is here that the Apostle Paul speaks across two millennia to address this contemporary issue: How do we love the culture around us—amid its myriad of issues—in a way that pleases God?

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,” begins Paul in his well-known chapter on love, “but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Why does this very famous ‘Love Chapter’ start with what love is not? Maybe because it is written specifically to Christians(!). Perhaps it is because one very subtle inclination is to make a spectacle of our love—an external statement for everyone around us to see. A motive of wanting to control others or be acclaimed by them replaces the motive of love. But the Apostle Paul is saying that these displays of ‘love’ are not really love. In fact, they are nothing more than a grating, irritating cacophony in God’s ears. God sees our hearts and He sees what’s going on deep inside. He recognizes that our sharp and loud voices, some of our bold projects, and many of our religious programmes have more to do with the opposite of love.

What is the opposite of love? Read it between the lines of the first three verses of I Corinthians 13. The opposite of love is fear—fear that moves us to try to control people and manipulate situations, our own selves, and sometimes even God. We can try to control others by speaking eloquently, by spouting all the most recent scientific, psychological, or social information on a subject. We can try to control others by launching campaigns, or by parading in front of others how compassionate we are. We can try to control ourselves by hiding the fear we have deep inside that we might not be of any worth. We can even try to control God with our good works, by thinking we can put Him in debt to us—to cause Him to do for us what we demand of Him. But it is all about fear.

One option is to demolish what many feel is the source of fear. Slogans like ‘No Fear’ champion the supremacy of human ability and achievement. The problem with this method of dealing with our innate fear is that in order to claim human supremacy, we must, by necessity, reject the supremacy of God. There is something connecting our fears with our ideas of a God who demands certain things. The basis for our morality then shifts from “God says…” to “I say…” in order to dismantle fear this way. But is this way of thinking consistent and livable?

The other option is to accept God for who He is and watch that create a change within us from the inside out. “God is love,” explains the Apostle John. “Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in him… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:16-18).

When we accept the truth that our innate fear is based on our intuitive knowledge of having sinned against God, we begin to step out of the shadow of fear; and when we remember Jesus’ debt-paying death on our behalf, we move from fear into the light of God’s expansive love. This is the necessary preamble to loving others. We must first accept God’s love for us God’s way: Jesus’ personal goodness projected onto us is the sole basis for God’s loving acceptance of us. Returning to this truth again and again is what drives fear away from its hold on our hearts. It is what restrains us from our gong-sounding, cymbal-clanging tendencies to be in control.

So when the tendency to be ruled by fear returns, when we are tempted to silence it by taking control of the situation and of others, let’s choose to rest in God instead. Kay Bruner, counselor and author, savors: “Fear says, ‘Don’t do it! You’ll be powerless!’ Love says, ‘You’re Beloved.’

 

 

The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Part 11

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Quest of the Inner Ring.

The ten were indignant. They were incensed. They had heard the presumptuous request of James and John claiming first rights as the highest ministers in Jesus’ new sovereign state that they had envisioned. A hubbub of low murmurs was growing into exclamations of disbelief as one by one the other disciples heard of the audacity of their two fellow apprentices. They were disgruntled because of the ‘Inner Ring.’

C.S. Lewis talks about the phenomenon of the Inner Ring as an unwritten system determining who is inside and who is outside of an exclusive group. This quest to be part of an inner group of any type—whether of money-laundering drug lords or of trend-setting coffee shop dabblers—attracts each of us.

“I believe that in all (people)’s lives at certain periods,” explains Lewis, “and in many (people)’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.”

What is wrong with that?” we may ask. Aren’t Inner Rings natural groupings of like-minded people? Lewis gives two reasons why the quest—the unbridled passion— for the Inner Ring destroys all who follow it. Firstly, he says, “ Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skilful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.” Secondly, he adds, “As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want…The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.”

This was the situation facing Jesus as He saw His disciples break into bitter complaints over the blunt request of James and John to be in Jesus’ Inner Ring. Jesus saw the pride and selfishness that plagues humanity erupt in all twelve of His disciples—each of them willing to sacrifice all to enter that elusive and exclusive camaraderie with power. He could see into the future where each of the twelve would have spiralled into solitary self-absorbed chiefs grasping for their version of desired dominance, all in Jesus’ name.

So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

Jesus is showing His disciples, and all of us who attend to His words, that the desire to be “great”—to be in the only truly significant Inner Ring—is the best good a person can pursue. But here the similarity to all other Inner Rings and all other artifices of greatness disappears. This Inner Ring can only be entered by loving. Loving, explains Jesus, is the motivating force behind this quest, and serving others is the external outworking of that love. Jesus gives Himself as the prime example of One whose eternal greatness is revealed by His serving heart, by actions which would culminate in giving his life “as a ransom for many” out of sheer love.

We must love by serving others. Our serving is not to be out of mercenary interest but out of the greatest of loves existing in this universe: out of God’s love for us. This is the great purpose for which God created us in His image, to be individuals eternally expanding as co-operators with the expansive love of God. God’s love for us, in us, and through us becomes the identity with which we are known. We become lovers (not in the shallow, amorous, illicit sense—but in the deep, compassionate, self-sacrificing sense) of others. It is the natural outflowing of God’s love.

What Inner Rings do we pursue? Jesus is calling you and me to see them for what they really are: poor replacements for the one true relationship for which we are made. Child of God, come to the One who loves you as you are, then go out and serve others so they can come home to Him too. The quest for this Inner Ring is your calling.

(Photo Credit: By © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51964834)

The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Following Jesus, Part 8

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Astonished and Afraid.

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem with Jesus leading the way,” continues the Gospel writer John Mark, “and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. (Mark 10:32).

The road following the Jordan River valley southward toward Jericho and Jerusalem was little more than a narrow path tacked onto the side of a rocky hillside. Jesus was leading the way because it was single file width here. There was little talk. One misstep and a traveller would be slipping and tumbling down the steep rubble toward the riverbed and it would be a long hot climb back up to the path. So there was time for reflection.

Jesus was reflecting on His journey’s goal: Jerusalem, where the necessary step of His redemptive plan for humanity would take place—His painful, wrath-absorbing execution. The disciples were perhaps reflecting on Jesus’ words at their last rest stop, “the first will be last, and the last first.” What did Jesus mean by that? He was an astonishing teacher and they forever seemed to be one step behind Him in understanding what He was all about. His view of the kingdom of God was almost impossibly opposed to everything they had been taught. If religion, wealth, and ambition were barriers to entering God’s kingdom, how did one enter it?

The crowd following behind the disciples was the last in line, and we’re simply told they were afraid. What fears motivated their reflections? Were they afraid of the consequences to Jesus returning to Jerusalem where the religious leaders had made it clear they would kill Him? Were they afraid of the implications of being associated with this wanted man? Were they afraid of their own inner turmoil as they thought about their own failings, and of Jesus’ statement that it is impossible to save oneself from the eternal consequences of those failings? They were afraid, yet they followed, perhaps from a distance, both attracted and repelled by the teachings of this strange man.

There must have been a widening in the path, because we’re told Jesus now stopped to say something to His twelve disciples. Perhaps the path rose up to a plateau from which the temple mount of Jerusalem could be seen in the distance, and on this wide plateau the disciples could gather around Him and hear what He had to say. Perhaps the following crowd had slowed its pace back on the narrow path and had fallen far behind. This message was for His twelve close friends only.

Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise

This wasn’t the first time Jesus had predicted His own execution. The gospel-writer John Mark records at least three other times when Jesus had revealed to His twelve disciples the traumatic twist His death would take. He had used words like ‘suffer’ and ‘rejected’, and one of those times His close disciple Peter had tried to rebuke Him—to say, ‘Impossible! You are the Messiah! You are the promised Leader of God’s glorious kingdom!’

Yet Jesus was again repeating His prediction, adding this time the betrayal aspect that would shock at least eleven of the twelve disciples. And for a third time Jesus also revealed that His death would be only Part A of the great redemptive act God’s love had planned for humanity; Part B would be Jesus’ resurrection—His conquest of death’s mortal grip on life. But it all seemed to go over their heads again this day. They were silent.

And that is often how we are when Jesus wants to speak into our hearts and lives. We’re astonished or we’re just silent. We’re distracted by visions we’ve created in our own minds about how life will unfold, how success will come our way, how things will pan out. But Jesus still speaks. He takes you and me aside and speaks into our hearts through His Word, the Bible, telling us what we need to know for today to give us hope and strength. There may be suffering in our day, but there is always the rising out of the dust of that suffering because of Jesus and the life He offers. So let’s step aside with Jesus today; let’s read His Word and hear His voice. Let’s respond to Him through prayer and then step back onto the path with Him as our leader. That’s what Jesus is offering.

The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Following Jesus, Part 5

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Profits and Losses

A “profit and loss statement” explains Investopedia, “is a financial statement that summarizes the revenues, costs and expenses incurred during a period of time.” It explains that revenue (the ‘top line’), subtracts the costs of doing business, and ends up by stating the difference, known as net income (the ‘bottom line’). Very well. That makes sense, even to those of us who have no business savvy. In order to identify the bottom line we must account for costs necessarily incurred in the running of the business.

Can we transfer this template to the spiritual realm for a moment? Analogies are never perfect, but they can help clarify some hard-to-get concepts at times. Let’s try. Recall, we’ve been tramping through a segment of the Gospel of Mark. We’ve been listening in on Jesus’ interactions with townsfolk and observing Jesus mentoring His disciples in a practicum of sorts. Jesus has corrected His disciples’ misguided intuitions about entering the kingdom of God: the disciples are prone to ward off children in preference to welcoming the wealthy and powerful. Jesus does the opposite. It’s beginning to dawn on the disciples that Jesus is describing an almost impossible paradigm when He asks them to follow Him.

“We have left everything to follow you!” exclaims Peter, perhaps in more than a little exasperation. He’s referencing the ‘cost of doing business’ with Jesus and he hasn’t yet determined what that means in his own life.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions)…”

There it is. Jesus has expanded the boundaries of the cost of doing business with Him. He has listed comforts, relationships, and career. Following Him, He says, costs everything—everything a person has ever counted dear. He’s depicting it to show that it is an impossibly expensive paradigm by human standards. But wait. Without stopping for breath Jesus uncloaks next quarter’s revenue—next statement’s top line; it shows a revenue expanded a hundredfold. What?

One hundred times the joy of community family life, a 10,000% increase in the richness of relationships, the broadest scope of reach with an otherness perspective—all result from this core change of priorities. But don’t be misled. Jesus is not saying, ‘Put a twenty in the offering plate at church and you’ll get a $200,000 bonus from your employer at Christmas.’ It’s not hocus-pocus or a prosperity gospel that He’s offering. For one thing, you will have noticed Jesus has explained that with the expanded revenue comes an expanded cost in the form of persecutions. For another thing, He’s interested in developing the richness of character-based inner lives, not superficial material prosperity.

What Jesus is saying is that when we remove from first place in our hearts all those things and people that compete with our love for Him, and put Him first, He will fill our hearts with more than we are capable of having on our own: more love, more emotion, more appreciation, more thankfulness, more joy. The list goes on. He enables us to love our spouses more deeply, care for our parents more joyfully, raise our children more holistically, enjoy His creation more fully, and even participate in our careers with more authenticity than we ever could before. We no longer need to go in search of ever-increasing extremes of stimulation and adventure in order to find satisfaction in life. We are free from the bondage of the ‘bucket list.’

However, with this new outlook and inner transformation, we will also find ourselves clashing with the spirit of the world in a way we never experienced before. Culture that rejects the supremacy of Jesus is necessarily antagonistic toward His followers. History depicts the persecutions against Christians quite clearly. Even today, in countries around the world, followers of Jesus are targeted with varying amounts of antagonism, harassment, oppression and outright persecution. It is no surprise to Jesus, so let it be no surprise to us.

There is a cost to doing business with Jesus. This is why the rich young ruler, mentioned earlier in Mark’s gospel, walked away with a fallen face. He was unwilling to risk losing his material wealth for a less tangible reward. The disciples, too, had begun to recognize the cost, because Jesus does not (in accounting terms) ‘cook the books’ to hide it. And we must understand this cost for ourselves. Jesus is adamant. He wants followers that come to Him with eyes wide open. And as we accept the reality of the profits and losses that come with following Him—an almost impossible paradigm—He promises to fulfill our God-given ambitions: our deepest and truest hopes and desires. Now that’s an investment.

(Photo Credit: Paychex)