Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Unbiblical Absolutes of Self-Protection

This excerpt is taken from John Piper's book, The Roots of Endurance (pages 18-20). I read this section a lot - especially when I am tempted to forget that God's sovereignty is always directed with intentionality and love. This writing is a real buzz-kill if you're looking to spend the evening feeling sorry for yourself! I pray that it will challenge and encourage you the same way it has for me.

The Unbiblical Absolutes of Self-Protection
There is a mind-set in the prosperous West that we deserve pain-free, trouble-free existence. When life deals us the opposite, we have a right not only to blame somebody or some systerm and to feel sorry for ourselves, but also to devote most of our time to coping, so that we have no time or energy left over for serving others.

This mind-set gives a trajectory to life that is almost universal - namely, away from stress and toward comfort and safety and relief. Then within that very natural trajectory some people begin to think of ministry and find ways of serving God inside the boundaries set by the aims of self-protection. Then churches grow up in this mind-set, and it never occures to anyone in such a community of believers that choosing discomfrot, stress, and danger might be the right thing - even the normal, biblical thing - to do.

I have found myself in coversation with Christians for whom it is simply a given that you do not put yourself or your family at risk. The commitment to safety and comfort is an unquestioned absolute. The damends of being a Christian in the twenty-first century will probably prove to be a rude awakening for such folks. Since we h
ave not embraced the Calvary road voluntarily, God may simply catapult us onto it as he did the home-loving saints in Acts 11:19: "Those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word."

Stress and Danger Are Normal
One way or the other, Christ will bring his church to realize that "in the world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33); that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted: (2 Timothy 3:12); that we are called to "share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God" (2 Timothy 1:8); that "we...groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23); that "whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for [Christ's] sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35); and that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

IF we will not freely take our cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34) on the Calvary road, it may be thrust on us. It would be better to hear the warnings now and wake up to biblical reality. Existence in this fallen world will not be pain-free and trouble-free. There will be groaning because of our finitude and fallenness, and many afflictions because of our calling (Romans 8:23; Psalm 34:19). Frustration is normal, disappointment is normal, sickness is normal. Conflict, persecution, danger, stress -- they are all normal. The mind-set that moves away from these will move away from reality and away from Christ. Golgotha was not a suburb of Jerusalem.

Christians Move Toward Need, Not Comfort
For the apostle Paul, following Christ meant bearing the marks of his suffering. "We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything" (2 Corinthians 6:8-10). Being a Christian should mean that our trajectory is toward need, regardless of danger and discomfort and stress. In other words, Christians characteristically will make life choices that involve putting themselves and their families at temporal risk while enjoying eternal security. "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing...having nothing, yet possessing everything."

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