"Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, . . . They are not
just idle words for you-- they are your life" (Deuteronomy 32:46-47).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Embrace the Journey Boldly

Here's a little food for thought from a recent Sunday School class on the text, Mark 12:13-40.

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (12:17).

How do you do with confrontation, face it, shy away from it, or avoid it altogether? As Christians, we have to be ready for the confrontations that will surely come. Ducking for cover is no longer an option. When you said "yes" to following Jesus, your life took a turn down the difficult road of conflict- external and internal. You will have to make the choice to do things God's way a gazillion times a day.

In the text, Jesus is being set up to make the wrong choice by his adversaries, the Jewish leadership. If they could get him to advocate not paying taxes to Rome, they could have him arrested. But look closely. Jesus is on a mission from heaven, his destination is mapped out, his heart is dead-set on a Cross. Jesus came to die for your sins and mine. He's focused on his journey, so he passed this test with flying colors.

Look what he tells us to do: give to God what is God's. We owe God our lives, our devotion, our greatest efforts. Yes, you owe God this: to stay focused on your journey of faith and do it well. Three convictions will help you prepare for confrontation and boldy embrace your journey with Christ:

1) Know where you stand with Jesus (12:13-17). How many voices are trying to get our attention in this world? Think about the numbers of things that are competing for our devotion and participation in this world. The religious leaders' question was skillfully devised to make Jesus have to choose between allegiance to Rome or to God, the Father. What are you devoted to right now that is stealing your devotion to God? What are you participating in right now that is keeping you from being involved in Godly pursuits? What attitudes, beliefs, or actions in your life right now are dividing your allegiance to Christ? Other things creep in and get us sidetracked when we don't know where we stand with Christ.

2) Know why you stand with Jesus (12:28-31). The Jewish leaders had literally taken the commands of God and saddled them with so many do-s and don't-s that no one stood a chance of satisfying God. They were being crushed under the weight of a distorted religion. These leaders asked Jesus another loaded question. He answered them in a way that even they could not argue with.

He reached back to Deuteronomy 6:4, quoting from what came to be known as the Shema, the Jewish confession of faith. To this day, the Shema is still used in Jewish synagogue services. To the Shema, Jesus attached Leviticus 19:18, so that the greatest commandment became two that equal one: love God with everything you've got, and love people like you love yourself.

Can the answers to the confrontations we face in life be that simple? Can embracing the journey of faith boldly and doing it valiantly really just boil down to that four letter word, love? Can choosing God's way over the world's way really be just asking ourselves in those stressful choosing-moments: What choice shows best that I love God and love people? Love is why we're alive in the first place. Remember, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son" (John 3:16). Love is why we have a chance to stand with Jesus. Remember, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

3) Live out what you know about Jesus and why you stand with Jesus (12:38-40). Nobody likes when people say one thing and do another. The people you and I know have no problem recognizing what is corrupt and dirty, even when it comes dressed up and looking like a million bucks. Listen, the Jewish leaders were supposed to be God's agents to change the culture to reflect God's standards and lead people forward along the journey of faith, but instead they were the problem. They made everything about themselves rather than about God.

We are just as capable of making the same mistake on our journey of faith, and often times we do. I constantly remind myself that I am one step from stupid all the time. God wants people all around us to get on the journey with him, and do it well- and he want us to be change-agents to help them. What do you do that conflicts with what you say? Do you say you love Jesus, but then prove otherwise by your actions? Do you call yourself a follower of Christ, but then spend more time walking away from him, rather than with him? Doing the journey of faith well requires living out what we know about Jesus and why we stand with Jesus.

Remember, along our journey of faith we're going to have to choose God's way over the world's way multiple times every day. It's all about giving to God what is God's. So, let's choose well.