10.28.2007

Christians: Move Towards Need, Not Comfort

Over ten years ago, John Piper, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church,
gave a sermon in which his Bible test was the 13th chapter of Hebrews,
verses 12 to 16:
http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByScripture/26/1011_Let_Us_Go_With_Jesus_Bearing_Reproach/

How do I know? My friend interned there during the time, and sent me
the tape. He thought I'd enjoy it. He was right.

The sermon was entitled, "Let Us Go With Jesus Bearing Reproach," and
the central exhortation was for Christians to "move toward need, not
comfort." The passage in the Bible notes that just as priests
sacrificed animals outside the camp (verse 11), so Jesus died outside
the camp (12), and that we therefore should also go bearing His
reproach (13), and we could do this because this life is not what
we're living for (14).

Whew, that's a lot there! But it speaks to a mindset that says no to
hunkering down for this world's material comforts, and yes to
radically following Jesus for the prize that awaits us in the life to
come. Here in America, comfort is king; or, to put it in more
spiritualized terms, comfort is a god, a god that competes with the
one true God for our attention and allegiance.

When I first heard this sermon, in my mid-twenties, the fork in the
road was a job that paid well and offered prestige and accolades
versus a job in which I could advance the Kingdom of God. A decade
later, in my mid-thirties, the fork in the road is a life of comfort
and happiness with my wife, kids, and house, versus a life in which I
can advance the Kingdom of God.

Of course, I shouldn't be so black-and-white as to say these divergent
paths are actually divergent. One can pursue the Kingdom of God in a
well-paying job, and one can pursue the Kingdom of God with a wife,
kids, and house. To call one road disobedient and the other obedient,
and then to choose the obedient road, can easily become yet another
way in which we exalt and trust ourselves instead of God.

Nevertheless, there is something to be said about the seduction of the
comfort of this world. Especially after 9/11, Americans did a lot
of hunkering down; and, thanks to a booming economy, upper- and
middle-class folks like me had the dough to buy nice houses, fix them
up real good, and "cocoon" ourselves with ever more elaborate garages,
backyards, and home entertainment centers.

And yet how does the money and effort we've invested into our earthly
residences compare with that which we've invested into our heavenly
ones? When the Bible is clear that the call to the follower of Jesus
is to move toward need, not comfort, how many of us are found going
the other way? When given the choice between worldly riches and
praise and following in the reproach of our Savior, do we have the
faith to see that in fact the latter offers the far better payoff?

This morning concludes my study of the book of Hebrews, and
coincidentally brings me to a section of the Bible that I heard a
sermon on almost exactly ten years ago. The message contained within
it hit me like a bolt of lightning then, when I was in my twenties,
and so it hits me today, when I am in my thirties. And as I learned
yesterday, Jesus is the same throughout it all, such that when I am in
my forties and fifties and sixties and on, I can hear this same
message and trust that the One who is calling me to move toward need
and not comfort can be trusted to make such a path pay off for
eternity.

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