The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Following Jesus, Part 4

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Impossible?

Picture the largest indigenous land animal in your country—on the west coast of Canada it would be a grizzly bear. Now picture the smallest hole which technology of our day has devised—that would be the apertures made by UC Berkeley’s semiconductor laser that are smaller than a single protein molecule. Now, imagine you want to communicate a hyperbole to make a point. You might say something like, “That’s as likely as a Grizzly squeezing through a semiconductor laser aperture!” It would be unusual enough that you would be making your point (no pun intended).

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus making a similar comment—a first century Middle Eastern version of it. Jesus uses hyperbole to make a point, to catch His disciples’ attention, to correct a firmly held cultural belief. Jesus’ comment follows His interaction with the rich young man who has turned away, unwilling to redistribute his wealth, precursor to softening his heart to following Jesus.

“Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:23-27).

The problem was that Jewish culture equated wealth with spiritual blessing. It read Moses’ words, “God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to” (Deuteronomy 15:10) and made it into a holy grail. Wealth became a defining sign of God’s reward. The wealthier the Jews became, the more they ignored God’s words fore and aft of the ‘blessing.’ The commands, “do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother” (v.7), and “be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (v.11) had been disregarded. It is human nature to twist God’s words in such a way that it benefits oneself rather than obeying the true spirit of the command.

Jesus’ hyperbole was meant to bring that mindset to a screeching halt. The disciples are “amazed” and then “even more amazed” at his words. He is clearly explaining that we can neither earn our way to eternal life nor presume that our wealth, social status, or ethical standards give us a foot in the door to paradise. There is nothing we can do to position ourselves to deserve God’s blessing. No one can be saved.

Exactly, confirms Jesus. “With man this is impossible.”

But Jesus continues. There is hope because God turns the impossible into the possible. As in creation when He speaks His Word and everything from rainbows of light to species of life are created, His Word must be spoken for humanity’s salvation to occur. Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh, and it is He who makes salvation possible for each of us. He is the one who has spent the wealth of His perfect sinlessness to pay with His life-blood the debt of our moral bankruptcy. They unpayable bill has been paid in full.

No matter where we are at today—long-time followers of Jesus, cautious explorers of this thing called saving faith, or hard-nosed atheists—we are all on common ground. Not one of us can access any real paradise on our own. It’s impossible. But Jesus can and does. Jesus makes the impossible possible.

Be amazed an even more amazed. He has made eternity available to us.

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REVELATION: Part 10

Meriam Ibrahim in Sudan

Confronting Mediocrity (Rev. 3:14-18)

She was sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging for her faith in Christ. Hours before the lashes were to be administered, Mariam Yehya Ibrahim’s sentence was revoked. She, along with her toddler son and newborn daughter, were free to return home where her husband waited. Hours later, authorities again detained Ibrahim as she and her family attempted to leave the country. That was three days ago.

There is nothing passive, lukewarm or mediocre about Ibrahim’s faith. She is willing to die for it, be tortured for it, or leave her home and land for it.

Jesus’ letter to the last of the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation is a handbook on this kind of faith — and the lack of it. Have we read it?

“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

That’s it. No consolation. No pats on the back. No excuses for passivity and mediocrity. Jesus is appalled at the juvenile attitude and behaviors His people in the church of Laodicea are displaying. They are happily complacent with material wealth, social acceptability, and various other sorts of immediate gratification. Like drinking tepid coffee or warm iced-tea, there is no pleasure for God in communing with laissez-faire followers.

Fortunately, Jesus offers counsel to remediate the problem, because the problem sounds strangely familiar. It’s not familiar to people like Mariam Yehya Ibrahim who is willing to give up everything she holds precious to stand up for Jesus, but maybe it’s familiar to us in the West. We are not likely to admit it aloud, but most of us have slipped into a level of mediocrity, haven’t we? It is so comfortable to be a Christian in these parts. We have our own schools, our own radio stations and music, even our own political party (at least the atheists think so).

Let’s be honest for a moment and ask ourselves if we are maybe even a little bit lukewarm in our faith. Would the Sudanese government consider us Christians if we lived where Ibrahim lives? Or have we become so adept at camouflaging our faith that we’ve evolved to become more like the culture around us than like Christ?

These are the clues: Are we poor in daily relationship with God, more comfortable on social media than in prayer? Are we blind to the unseen spiritual kingdom of God our lives are designed to promote? Are we naked of the love of Christ He longs to pour out on those with whom we come into contact?

His solution confronts the miserable mediocrity of our lives and replaces it with robust vitality: Admit that Jesus can do more for you than wealth can (“…assign your nuggets to the dust…then the Almighty will be your gold.” Job 22:25). Apply the salve of meditating on His Word to the eyes of your worldview (“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Col.3:2). Dress each day in the garb that gives you His identity (“…faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I Cor. 13:13).

A loved one recently cautioned, “Don’t be a self-righteous fool!” While the words sting, we who are truly followers of Jesus must be willing to accept the diagnosis, fill the prescription, and apply it daily. The flame of the Spirit is ready to heat up our lives to a temperature none could call mediocre, if we let Him.

Come, Holy Spirit. Revive us.

(Photo Uncredited)