Tightening the vice…
It’s been a “stressed-filled week!”…to say the least. Why, you might ask? Because we, as a family, are living out what I preach. Sometimes, God has to tighten the vice on our lives, and many days on my life in order to bring things back into perspective. It began on Monday when I began to prepare for another week of ministry. My emphasis this week – what Jesus meant when He said, “pick up your cross.”
Let’s lay this one out on the table…we all like to be comfortable. We like a nice home, nice cars, nice job, a good income, great health care, a peace filled – stress free life; we all like to be comfortable including yours truly. We live in a culture which places a very high value on comfort. We attempt to make everything as easy and as comfortable as possible. However, as a Christ follower [not fashioning our life as a fan of Christ, but a devoted, passionate follower], there is a danger when it comes to embracing comfort. The danger is the more emphasis we place on being comfortable, the more our faith toward God and our pursuit of Him will follow suit. For the last two Sunday mornings, I’ve had the opportunity to teach on what it means to live out a Luke 9:23 lifestyle – “Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” If you are a comfort craving Christian, what do you do with this verse? In reality, there are only two options: you either have to live it out passionately or you cut it out of the Gospel. If you cut it out, literally, you have a gaping hole in the Truth. This is where I believe too many Christians live life today – I will give or offer what is convenient or comfortable, but nothing more. Think about what it really means to “deny oneself.” When we first read this statement, we immediately think, what do I have to give up or what do I have to forgo in my comfortable lifestyle. The bottom line is, it is not what you have to reluctantly or grudgingly give up. If this is your response toward the words of Luke, your life no doubt fits the paradigm of the rich young ruler who went away sad because He has great wealth. Rather, the idea expressed by Christ is, how do you generously and passionately live out your Christian experience even if it costs you great comfort in the process. I will shoot straight with you about my struggle this week. Although I rolled out of bed, a little stiff but with a lot of energy to tackle another day, this endeavor of adoption we have embarked upon has been a lot of work. Hands down, it is a lot of work – no less three times over. Most often what people see are the well dressed, happy, well behaved children [we hope], in the public eye, but I will tell you, some days, I don’t know if I am coming or going. With two full time working parents – Jody who travels outside of Lansing 98% of the time and me investing a consistent 65 hours week after week in ministry – life has become less and less comfortable. People have said, this is the life you’ve chosen. And it is. But, we certainly haven’t chosen this life for fame or fortune or anything having to do with ourselves; we’ve chosen this life for three very precious children. We knew with this third adoption, we would be pushing the envelope. We knew Seph was about to start a new chapter in his life with college. We knew Jody would have to secure a full-time job in order to help pay for the additional expenses of college and bringing a fifth child into our home. We knew what little free time we had would just about be eliminated. We knew those date nights and special getaways would be put on hold for a few years. We knew the “semi-comfortable” life with six members in the household was all but over. As I [we] live what I preach – we are not into living the American dream of comfort and prosperity. We are into living out the demands of Scripture when it comes to taking care of the orphan, the widow and the needy. Do I miss the days of sitting on the back deck with no noise in the background? Do I miss the days where I can call my friend up on the phone and say, “It’s my day off, let’s go play nine holes?” Do I miss the date nights with Jody? And what about the “free time” which is all but gone, as there is always something which needs to be done or a situation which needs to be handled whether in the middle of the day or at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. Yes! Yes! And yes!
This week, God did a little bit of tightening of the vice to make sure we, or perhaps I should say “I”, stayed on task with what He has commanded us to do. It was through the words of a very wise woman who put things back into perspective. In the end, all I needed to do was to look into the faces of those three precious children; all I needed to do was to hear the word “daddy”; all I needed to do was for one of them to wrap their arms around one of my legs; all I needed to do was to see them laughing and playing joyfully. That’s it. That’s all I needed. It is a simple as this. And what it did was to erase any selfish desire of a pursuit of the ”American dream” and a comfortable life. I would be willing to admit, some days, even pastors need to be placed in the grips of God’s vice.