Accepting the Difficult

Although I certainly do not fully understand the Word of God – nor do I expect I ever will – I have come to realize that while much of what Scripture says can be comforting, encouraging and almost unbelievably good news to sinners like me, I cannot take what I like out of God’s Word and ignore the harder, less-palatable truths found there.

How’s that for an obvious statement?

And yet, despite the obvious, for the longest time that’s exactly what I tried to do. I would not necessarily have voiced these sentiments out loud, but as a young Christian I allowed myself to mindlessly interpret some of the harder sayings of Scripture through the wildly-inappropriate lens of “what seems best to me” in the here and now, and I allowed my life’s particular joys and sorrows to serve as the definitive gauge by which I decided “how much” I was going to allow the Bible to change my heart and mind. In other words, if I didn’t like what a particularly difficult passage said, I might determine it held no application for me, or I might choose to interpret it such that it better fit my circumstances.

In case you have not already guessed the eventual outcome of this heart attitude, then I’ll just plainly say that this approach to the Bible is dead wrong. I have since repented of my willingness to soak in God’s Word only as long as it did not cause any angst in my day-to-day living.

It took years, but I have come to understand that it’s best if I offer God “my permission” to challenge my comfort whenever and wherever He deems best. These past few years, He has chosen to show me (rather often) how much I value human relationship and acceptance over the mercy and forgiveness of God offered to me in Jesus Christ. The proof for this all-too-common form of idolatry was actually fairly close at hand; I simply had to admit which passages in Scripture I resisted most fiercely. For today, here’s just one sample:

Luke 14:26 (ESV)
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

There are any number of passages in the New Testament that I find troubling at best, but most of them tend to settle in on the challenging issue of whether or not Jesus is my greatest treasure. Time and again, the weight of evidence would very strongly suggest that He is not. And I suspect that is precisely the point of the troubling passage.

Yes, of course, I do want Jesus in my life…but that’s a far cry from the willingness to let Jesus be my life. I like to have Jesus around whenever I run into trouble, but my heart can quickly go cold when He interferes with the priorities and agenda that I have set for myself, or when His relentless insistence that I put Him above all others wrecks one or more relationships and serves as a springboard for deep, searing emotional pain.

What a mercy of God that His Word speaks so clearly and so directly to our corrupt, fallen hearts! How patient and loving of Jesus to utter words that are incredibly hard to hear, lest we be left in our ignorance.

One of the bigger mistakes I made in my first years as “a baby Christian” was to assume that since salvation had come to me, well then, of course it would quite naturally spread to every member of my family, both immediate and extended. Again, this was not a feeling that I would necessarily have been able to give voice to, but the issue that occupied center stage in my heart was whether or not Heaven could actually be a good thing if many of the people I loved were not there. Of course, I “knew the right answer” in case it ever came to pass that I was asked to choose between Jesus and someone else I loved dearly, but the unspoken hope was that Jesus would love me “well enough” such that I would never be brought to a place where that answer had a life-or-death price tag associated with it.

A common mistake, I think, is to read Luke 14:26 and be appalled that Jesus would force us to choose between Him and some of our loved ones. Perhaps we can’t help but apply human reasoning and standards to such a test, and we walk away wondering why Jesus could be so “cruel” to ask us to forsake mothers, fathers, children and others in order to follow Him. But the harder truth is that it is not Jesus Who ultimately forces our hand on this matter; it is instead, ultimately, those people we love. The hardness of the hearts around us, those very same loved ones who continue to stonewall Christ out of their own lives, can encourage us, in any number of ways, to do the same.

So then, Jesus’ words beckon all to draw near to Him in the face of this temptation (Matthew 11:28; James 4:8), while our loved ones may be seeking to lure us away. The spouse who challenges our desire to faithfully attend services every week, the teenager who defies us to get what they want and then watchfully waits to see what we’ll do when we recognize their deceit, the parent or sibling who seeks to be prioritized over our own spouse…all of them, whether they know it or not, can be calling us to choose a temporal solution to situations that have eternal consequences. Will we look to Christ and the Word for a faithful response to these situations, or will we seek to maintain our earthly relationships over and above our relationship with (and obedience to) Christ?

This difficult passage in Luke is actually highlighting one of Jesus’ many exhortations to believers to rightly judge the real treasure and to seek it above all else, with joy. This is most certainly not a narcissistic call to “pick me over all others,” but rather a call to see with clear eyes all those things that can draw us away from the ultimate joy available only through Him.

Next Sunday (Sept. 30), The Crossing will begin another set of adult Connections classes designed to help all of us better understand the Bible as God’s authoritative Word. Charles Anderson will tackle the harder sayings of Jesus during the 9:30 service, while Nathan Tiemeyer will take us through the “R-rated” book of Judges during the 11:00 service. If you have not already done so, you can still sign up online.

Whether you are able to attend one of these Connections classes or not, I would urge anyone reading this not to follow my earlier footsteps and attempt to breeze past any parts of the Bible – particularly the words of Christ – that they find difficult at best and perhaps even intolerable. I would instead encourage you to make notes on those passages that are hard for you to read and spend time asking questions that help you wrestle your objections to the ground.

Christ called Himself the Truth (John 14:6); I’ve finally come to understand that you just can’t accept part of the Truth. You either accept Him completely…or reject Him altogether. There is no half measure; it was never intended that there would be.

Luke 9:61-62 (ESV)
Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” 

John 21:20-22 (ESV)
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

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