There are two kinds of people in the world. Okay, there are WAY more than two kinds of people, but I’m only going to focus on two kinds right now. In order to explain the two kinds of people, I am going to turn to the 1980s cult classic Better Off Dead and the popular SciFi/Fantasy book series A Game of Thrones.
THE FIRST TYPE
In Better Off Dead, starring a young John Cusack, there is a scene where Cusack’s character, Lane, is practicing to make the ski team. He and his buddy, Charles, head to the top of a very difficult ski course full of trees, jumps, twists, and turns. Charles is pessimistic and warns Lane, “Dying when you’re not really sick is really sick, you know. Really!”
THE SECOND TYPE
In the George R.R. Martin series, A Song of Ice and Fire (AKA Game of Thrones) there is a religious order in the sea region of the Iron Islands. This religion is centered on whom they call “The Drowned God.” The priest and his closest followers are known as “drowned men.” They practice a form of extreme baptism where the priest will hold the other guy under the water until he literally drowns. Once the guy stops struggling and floats lifeless on the waves, the priest then drags him to land and revives him. After this ritual the priest declares, “What is dead can never die, but rises harder and stronger.”
TO DIE OR NOT TO DIE
So which type of person are you? The kind that lives their life trying to avoid all risk, all danger, all possibility of death until one day you simply get too old to keep on living? Or are you the kind of person who stares death in the face, laughs at danger, and gets off on taking risks?
I would guess that most of us are somewhere in the middle. That’s why we have roller coasters. They give us the thrill of risk and danger but with the safety of harnesses, seat belts, and those constricting metal bars.
But what kind of life does Jesus call us to?
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
Paul in his letter to Colossae is right in line with the words and warnings of Jesus:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
When you make the decision to follow Christ, you are forfeiting your life. You die. You lose your life. And by doing so, you are raised again to a new life, a better, fuller, eternal life.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
WORTH DYING FOR
What in your life is worth dying for? My wife, my kids…that’s about it. My iPad isn’t worth my life. My car, my house, my job – not worth it. But I would gladly give up my life to save my family.
What about your faith? Here’s where some toes are going to be stepped on. If you faith consists of nothing more than showing up to church on Sundays, then that is not a faith worth dying for! If someone told me that I had to either stop going to a certain building on Sundays or else I would be violently executed, guess what – I’m sleeping in.
That’s why the stories of Christian martyrs shake us up so much. They DIED for the things we take for granted. They were MURDERED, not because they went to church but because they confessed Jesus as Lord. If you asked them what it means to follow Jesus, their answer would have very little to do with “going to church.” Following Jesus means dying to yourself, marking yourself for death, and taking seriously the call to “take up your cross” EVERY – SINGLE – DAY.
DISCIPLESHIP vs. THE AMERICAN DREAM
I think the church is guilty of “baptizing” and spiritualizing the American Dream. We teach our kids to do well in school, participate in sports, land a part time job, and score well on their ACT/SAT so that they can get a scholarship to the college of their dreams. While in college parents push their kids to major in something “practical” so they can get a high paying job straight after graduation. Work a while, save up money, get married, buy a house, two cars, a boat, and a dog. Have kids and teach them to repeat the cycle.
I have NEVER heard a Christian parent ENCOURAGE their child(ren) to become ministers or missionaries. If they come up with that idea on their own, the parents might relent but will still demand that they minor or double major in some other field to fall back on. Because God forbid that our children should face hardships and struggles for the sake of spreading the gospel, right? Oh the bitter irony.
We take our kids to Sunday school and teach them the names of the disciples (to the tune of “Jesus Loves Me”). But we just kind of stop there. These 12 (really 14) men were chosen by Jesus to a specific task – make more disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). In other words, the Twelve were sent out to teach people how to live like they lived AND how to die like they died.
Only one out of 14 died of old age.
Jesus called them one by one:
Peter – crucified upside down
Andrew – crucified on an X-shaped cross
James – beheaded with a sword by Herod Agrippa; the first disciple to be martyred (Acts 12:1-3)
and John – died of old age in Ephesus BUT had multiple attempts on his life including one instance where, tradition says, he was thrown into a large vat of boiling oil but was saved by an angel from God (sounds like the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego)
Next came Philip – scourged, thrown in prison, and crucified
Thomas, too – run through with spears
Matthew – Killed with a halberd (a long, pointed battle ax)
and Bartholomew – flayed alive and then crucified
James, the one they called “the less” – beaten, stoned, and bludgeoned with clubs
Simon – crucified along with Thaddeus
also Thaddeus – crucified along with Simon
the twelfth apostle Judas made, Jesus was by him betrayed – hanged himself after turning Jesus in to the authorities
Yes, Jesus called them
Yes, Jesus called them
Yes, Jesus called them
And they all followed him
There were also Matthias and Paul who were added to the number of disciples.
Matthias – stoned and then beheaded
Paul – beheaded with a sword in Rome
Let’s take Paul’s example. We like Paul. We teach our kids about his missionary journeys, his miracles, his teachings, and so on. And when he says things like, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ,” we teach our kids to be good people, because Paul and Jesus were good people. But we don’t EVER encourage our kids to follow Paul’s example when it actually comes to spreading the kingdom. Paul didn’t play it safe. He had no Plan B. He dove head first into the very situations from which we try to protect our kids.
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin,and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Corinthians 11:23-29)
Yep, that sounds like the Western Christians American Dream in a nutshell, right?
THE WORLD IS NOT WORTHY
One of my fears is that the church is churning out children and teenagers worthy of this world. We are producing “good citizens,” star athletes, and math wizzes all under a “Christian” label. And the world is just waiting, drooling, stomach growling in anticipation for our students to leave our youth “programs” so it can sink its teeth into their juicy, fattened, sheltered souls.
Parents, you ARE NOT doing your child any favors by raising them this way!
I have two young boys – a three year old and a nearly two month old. It is my prayer that when all is said and done, they will grow up to be people of whom it can be said, “The world is not worthy of them.”
But that involves risk and danger.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging,and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. (Hebrews 11:32-38)
Lord God, please shape me and my family into the kind of people of whom the world is not worthy. Let us not be content to live comfortably under the guise of American Christianity, but teach us what it means to truly be your disciples. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death reunites us.