I Can Believe God’s Word As Long As Nothing Bad Happens

Yesterday (Sept. 5), Keith Simon used The Crossing’s Labor Day worship service to sketch a vivid portrait of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the brilliant German pastor and theologian who was implicated in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and executed by the Nazis just 10 days prior to the end of World War II. Quoting the Book of Hebrews (13:7), Keith used Bonhoeffer’s life story to encourage all of us to imitate the true heroes of the faith.

In Bonhoeffer’s case, refusing to compromise his Christian beliefs or to set aside even one word spoken by Jesus as absolutely and eternally true would cost him his job, his marriage, several members of his family and, ultimately, his life. (If you want to hear this message from Keith, you can download it here.)

Coincidentally, I had just spent the previous week listening to a four-part interview with author Eric Metaxas discussing his newly-published biography entitled Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. (The interview with Metaxas, delivered Aug. 30 through Sept. 2, is also available for download free of charge through RZIM; you can find it here.)

Both Keith’s sermon and the Metaxas interview served to paint a consistent picture of one man so thoroughly committed to Jesus Christ that nothing and no one was ever able to sway him, even in the face of paying the ultimate penalty for his resistance. To say, then, that Bonhoeffer clearly “qualifies” as a genuine hero of the Christian faith, someone worthy of our emulation, sure seems like a huge understatement.

The life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer has previously intersected with my own on a few occasions, only to be consistently pushed back in what I now recognize to be plain old fear. Growing up, I was very much aware that my mother greatly admired the written works of Bonhoeffer…but once I gathered the basic facts surrounding him I never “bothered” to find out why. Today, I have three books by Bonhoeffer in my personal library; I have not yet read even one of them. Because I am currently a grad student at Covenant, I had an opportunity over the summer to download one of his books (The Cost of Discipleship) for free in MP3 audio format; I listened to the first two chapters and stopped. I say all this to make the point that wild, totally-on-fire-for-God Christians like Bonhoeffer still scare the heck out of me. As mortifying as it is to have to admit all this in a church blog, I very much doubt that I am alone in that sentiment.

My sense is that most Christians are absolutely terrified whenever they encounter a life lived authentically and self-sacrificially for the Kingdom of Christ. “Dang, what’s going to happen to me if I give my life to Christ in an uncompromising fashion? Am I going to ‘go crazy’ and start giving away all my stuff? Will I end up losing my job if I live authentically for Jesus in the context of my workplace? Honestly, I don’t really want to end up getting executed for my faith.” Confronted with authentic lives of faith that ended badly – at least in worldy terms – aren’t we all tempted to give in to our natural desire to remain safe and take one or two giant steps backward? (I know I am.)

Whether we want to admit it or not, fear controls a great deal of our thought life and subsequent actions. Fear of getting old, fear of being unattractive, fear of poverty, fear of being alone for the rest of our lives…name your own fears out loud, and all at once many of the things you say and do will make far more sense to those around you.

For the Christian, though, one very legitimate fear is what will happen to us should we decide to surrender all of ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, i.e. doing exactly the thing that He has so very clearly commanded (Mark 10:28-31). We’ve all heard stories about wacky believers who got it in their head that they actually had been reborn to selflessly serve Christ (Ephesians 2:10) and ended up quitting their jobs, selling their house, giving all of their stuff away and moving to some insane location to work with indigenous people groups, right? You typically don’t circle the Christian community very long before meeting up with someone who is making a major life change to accommodate their faith. So what kind of craziness might Jesus call me to if I fully and finally decide that “I’m all in?”

For me, the central issue tends to be one of property rights, i.e. which pieces of “land” am I willing to parcel out to Jesus…and which sections do I enclose in barbed wire along with posting a huge KEEP OUT sign? My entire life of faith from 1997 to present has been a slow, painful process of having my carefully-constructed fences ripped down, one after the next, to demonstrate Christ’s Lordship over everything…not just the bits and pieces I am willing to hand over to Him. For example, in 1997 I was perfectly willing to grant Christ His Lordship over my alcoholism because I clearly needed His help with that, but I wanted to keep my finances (among other things) for myself. That arrangement lasted a few years, artificially held in place much longer than it should have been by an unwillingness to see clearly what was revealed within the pages of Scripture. Everything I am, have been and will be belongs to Him (Matthew 28:18-20). Everything.

Why, then, am I routinely afraid of what it might look like to serve Christ whole-heartedly while still in the flesh? Just this past weekend, for example, I had a particularly unpleasant episode of what I like to call “spiritually wetting myself” when a conversation unexpectedly turned to household finances, the horrible state of today’s real estate market and future prospects for hiring myself out as an IT professional (soon to be in his fifties).

Forget about SS storm troopers showing up to cart me away to my impending doom…I can’t even keep it together when confronted with the admittedly-remote possibility that I might have to dial back on my current lifestyle, even just a bit! How, then, will I ever measure up to the spiritual stature of someone like Bonhoeffer? Are you kidding me? I may publicly admire other Christians who are so crazy for Jesus that they deny themselves everything for His sake, but to think that I might one day be called to do likewise can be fearfully overwhelming.

Thankfully, 21st-century America is most certainly not Hitler’s Germany of the 1930s and 1940s, and by God’s grace most of us will likely never be called to deny Christ or swing from a gallows. Still, we do live in a culture that blatantly worships unbridled sexual expression in every imagineable permutation, is overflowing with violence and obscenity, has begun its own deadly exploration of when a human life is worth living, and routinely asks us to cheerfully celebrate lifestyles that we find to be a clear violation of God’s Law as given through Moses and ratified in its entirety by Jesus (Matthew 5:17-19). How will we hold up under real, increasingly life-altering pressure to cave to the currents of our culture? Will we be a Bonhoeffer…or will we remain silent?

The same fear and dread that causes me to put off learning more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer is, I have to think, the exact same beast that prevents me from speaking into conversations about sex, lifestyle, economics and what-have-you when the clear consensus of the crowd does not honor God in any way. I know that Jesus promised us salvation through much tribulation (John 16:1-3, 31-33, Acts 14:19-22) and that the Way of the Lord is marked by the cross (Luke 9:23-26), but will I actually live my everyday life in light of those truths? Bonhoeffer was ultimately called to die bravely at the hands of the Third Reich rather than deny Christ; I just hope that I can recall his uncompromising life of sacrifice, if not the Apostle Paul’s, the next time I try to walk past an animated conversation about abortion, pornography or the gay marriage debate just so that I can get to the office vending machine without being hassled.

2 Corinthians 11:24-30 (ESV)
Paul’s Suffering as an Apostle
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Philippians 3:8 (ESV)
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…

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