Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fighting Immobile Faith

I'm teaching on Matthew 8 & 9 this week and next and have had my attention caught by a singular subterranian theme in these chapters. This coming Sunday night I will be speaking to the teenagers on spiritual paralysis and the need to walk with God and grow. As I re-read chapter 8 today in preparation for Bible study tonight, I am struck by the sickness of the centurion's servant - the officer says he "is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly." This led me to think about how spiritual paralysis causes us to suffer and become sick. It reminded me of the analogy of fresh and stagnant water. We are not only called to walk close to God but also to walk out our faith in the world. If our Christianity is immobile and practiced only within the confines of the church or the subculture of faith, we will become like the Dead Sea, devoid of life because of a lack of outlet for what we contain. Worse yet, we may become like a stagnant pond, its contents a breeding ground for disease and parasites.

Finally, as I read verses 18-22, I realized that Jesus addressed two different priorities that could, if not properly arranged, immobilize a believer... stability and family. If faced with an opportunity to follow Jesus radically, people will often be thwarted by the fear of 1) sacrificing perceived stability or 2) the opinions of or duty to family.

When the scribe boldly offered, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go," Jesus quickly made clear that the cost of following him is the death of worldly stability. "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Most people come to a place in life where stability is a major priority; a home of your own, a steady job, a sense of assurance that things are in order. A lack of stability can cause fear or insecurity to develop in children as they mature and can take a significant toll on relationships (specifically a marriage). Jesus is not belittling stability - he is challenged the place in which we find it. Does my stability lie in my circumstances? My house that can be destroyed in hours by a catastrophe? A job that takes years to develop but can be deemed dispensable in one board meeting? Jesus is not claiming that stability is bad, he's pulling back the veil to help us see reality - what we call stability is essentially building our sanity on a foundation of sand, putting our hopes in a house of cards. Jesus calls for an eternal perspective and sobriety. Do not be fooled by the appearance of temporal stability; instead, choose to build your hopes on the foundation that will not shift or crack, the Son of Man.

When one of his disciples offered to follow him after he had buried his dad, he most likely wasn't asking to return to a deceased father in a casket, waiting for the graveside rites. Instead, he was asking permission to follow Jesus after his father had grown old and died and he was free of his obligation as a son. Jesus' response is offensive to almost any reader: "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead." Family is very important and we are called by God to honor our parents. However, our allegiance to Jesus as the King of Heaven cannot be supplanted by any other affinity, even that of our own families. Are families bad? Does Jesus expect us to cut ties with our siblings and parents? No. However, he is challenging our priorities. Will we allow the opinions of our families to keep us from radically following Jesus? Will I let my duty to my family mutate into an unhealthy codependance that knocks Jesus out of the throne in my life? It cannot be so in the life of one who wants to follow Jesus.

I'm seeing that God is very concerned with healing our spiritual paralysis. He wants us to walk with him and grow, to walk our faith in the world and influence others, and to have our priorities in the right places so we can be free to follow well. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2

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