Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Extreme Measures

Hans Url is a 56 year old husband and father in Austria who had been living primarily on disability since 2003.  However, he had an appointment coming up to evaluate his physical fitness for work.  If deemed to be fit, then he would risk losing his disability benefits, and would have to take on the work that was found for him. 

The thought was abhorrent to him so he hatched a plan to avoid this fate.  He waited until his family was away from home so there would be no interference.  Then he went down to the boiler room and cut off his foot with an electric saw.  Furthermore, he wanted to ensure that skillful doctors would not be able to reattach the foot.  So, he threw his severed foot into a wood stove to burn.  Finally, in danger of bleeding to death, Hans called an ambulance and was rushed to the hospital.

I am not going to use this as an opportunity to talk about political issues like entitlement attitudes and welfare.   What Hans did was horrible and brings his mental faculties into question.  It might be described as the height of laziness, but my purpose today is not to bash him.  Actually, I think that there is a positive lesson to be learned from this man.  I want to focus on Hans' determination to avoid a future that seemed most objectionable to him.  He would rather proceed through life maimed than continue on able-bodied to a destination he detested. 

It reminds me somewhat of what Jesus said in Matthew 18:8-9 (NKJV), If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.”

There are few practical instances where literally cutting off our foot would keep us from sin, but we do need to be very serious about getting rid of things in our lives that make it more difficult to be holy.  That might mean amputating certain freedoms and privileges from our lives.  .  If the internet is causing you to stumble then you need to amputate your private access to it by installing accountability software.  If you have been using money to finance your vice, then you may need to amputate you credit or debit card access.  If a job is tempting you to be unethical, then you may have to amputate that job.  If a person or group is pulling you toward sinful activities, then you might have to amputate those people from your life.   Getting serious about avoiding sin, means taking drastic steps to get rid of those things that have been temptations to you.   The righteousness you will achieve will be very much worth any inconvenience you incur.

You might suggest that it would be better to just develop the strength to resist those temptations.  After all, that seems much less drastic and more reasonable.  I would respond by pointing out that it is better to be holy than to be strong.  It is better to enter life lame or maimed than to rely on your own strength, and risk falling to the everlasting fire.  Consider the repeated admonitions to flee sin:
1 Corinthians 6:18 - “Flee immorality…”
1 Corinthians 10:14 - “Flee idolatry”
1 Timothy 6:11  - But you, O man of God, flee these things [the love of money] and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.
2 Timothy 2:22 - Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
                We learn the value of avoiding temptation from Jesus’ instructions on prayer.  When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he included the line, “do not lead us into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).  When they were in Gethsemane shortly before Jesus would be crucified, he again admonished his disciples, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).  Jesus was not instructing his disciple to pray for the strength to resist temptation, but rather for the avoidance of temptation altogether. 

                The point is that it is better to flee from sin and avoid temptation than to try to stay and fight.  Even the oft quoted 1 Corinthians 10:13 (No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.) speaks of escaping temptation rather than defeating it.  If you are on a diet, and you have cookies within easy reach all day relying on your willpower to resist the temptation, then you are likely to fail to maintain that diet.  For a better chance at success, it would be best to have no cookies in the house at all.  If you are seeking righteousness, then it would be better to remove temptations as far away from you as possible.

                So, how serious are you?  Are you willing to do whatever it takes to pursue righteousness?   Or just whatever seems reasonably convenient?  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What is that to you? You follow Jesus!

Jesus and Peter have a conversation right at the end of the Gospel of John (chapter 21).  In this conversation, Jesus charges Peter with the responsibility of caring for his sheep.  He then foretells a little about the way that Peter will die.  Peter, wondering about his fellow apostle John, said, “Lord, and what about this man?”  Jesus replies, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!"

I wonder how often Jesus might offer that same answer to us when we ask about the fortunes and opportunities of others.  Lord, what about this man?  “What is that to you?  You follow Me!”  Why does that guy seem to have gotten all the breaks in life, while I struggle so much?  “What is that to you?  You follow Me!”  Why did he get that job and I didn’t when I would have done it better?  “What is that to you?  You follow Me!”  Why don’t all these other people have to deal with the particular misfortune that I do?  “What is that to you?  You follow Me!” 

This is reminiscent of a parable Jesus told in Matthew 20:1-15:
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. "When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And so they went. "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. "And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he *said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' "They *said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He *said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.' "When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. "When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. "When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.' "But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 'Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?'

Some people will end up having done more work in life.  Some will have suffered more hardships.  Some will endure more trials, while others will have an easier path.  But in the end, God will deal with us fairly.  He will not defraud us of our just due.  If he is generous to others, “What is that to you?  You follow Him!”  As long as we make it to heaven, then we will have been well compensated for anything we endured along the way.  On the other hand, if we miss heaven, then we’ve missed everything.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Gospel According To You

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
Are read by more than a few,
But the one that is most read and commented on
Is the gospel according to you.
You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day
By the things that you do and the words that you say,
Men read what you write, whether faithless or true.
Say, what is the gospel according to you?
Do men read His truth and His love in you life,
Or has yours been too full of malice and strife?
Does you life speak of evil, or does it ring true?
Say, what is the gospel according to you?
-Arthur McPhee

Regardless of our intentions, we do preach a message to others each day.  We either tell them that Christ is important, or that He is not.  There is no middle ground.  What others see in our lives will greatly impact our ability to reach them for Christ.  We can choose to view this fact as a burden or an opportunity.  That is our choice.  Of course, this is not to say that any of us can be perfect, but simply that we must be aware of our influence at all times.  What type of Gospel has your life been preaching?