Sunday, September 6, 2015

Making upside-downers, Part 1: Treasures

Have you ever thought about how hard the Great Commission is to obey? Jesus told us to "make disciples." Disciples are actually students and apprentices, people who learn the teachings and study closely the ways of someone whom they want to be more like.

It's easy to make converts - walk someone through the ABCs of salvation and a "sinner's prayer" and congratulate them on knowing their sins are forgiven and that they will go to heaven some day, and send them on their light-hearted way. But to make disciples, you've got to walk through the details of the time between that prayer and their last breath... and the more I study Jesus' life, and the lives of people who were truly his disciples throughout history, the more I find pain, persecution, loneliness, and loss. And that is hard to convince people to willingly step into! Except... these difficult lives are the most powerful, beautiful, inspiring, adventurous, passionate, remarkable lives ever lived.

Because Jesus' teachings and his life are dizzyingly and terrifyingly upside-down.

Let's consider just one of his teachings: Mark 10:17-21. "Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 
Upside-down philosophy #1: If you want true treasure, sell everything you have.

This goes against everything we learn in this world! To give away your valuables makes you look foolish and weak. The more you have, the more power and respect and success you have. And the more of that you have, the happier you will be.

It's easy to dismiss this philosophy as being Jesus' call to just one person. But I notice that it was a pattern in his ministry: some left their nets, some left their tax collecting booths, some left their families. Jesus was poor himself. And his disciples throughout history have all had to give up the things that were valuable and precious to them in this life.

And what I've experienced in my own life is that this is a constant refining process - a daily sacrifice. Here's how it goes: I tell God that I want more of him, that I want his treasure above all else. So he points out something in my life that I value too much, and he tells me to let it go - in fact, to sell it so I can't take it back - in fact, to sell it and use whatever I gain in its place to benefit others. So I naturally have a temper-tantrum and say that I don't want to, and he reminds me that I already said I did want to, and after much whining and fighting, I do what he asks, because he is right. Then just as I start to feel good about what a great disciple I am, he points out something else. And the struggle happens all over again, as he slowly chisels and burns away my earthy treasures.

I'm pretty sure I didn't take Jesus seriously in the beginning of our relationship when he said, "sell EVERYTHING." But he did mean it, and if I am committed to being his disciple - his upside-downer - then he will make sure I sell everything I have, even if it is only one thing at a time and takes my whole life to accomplish. He is so patient with me. He knows this is a difficult teaching to carry out, a mission not for the faint of heart. And he knows I cannot possibly do it without his help.

The Bible says that the poor "rich" man went away from Jesus, and he was sad. He had so much to lose, and when he counted the cost, he decided the price was too steep. Other people walked away from Jesus, too, when his upside-down philosophies became too much. And many people still do. And when I think of some of the things He has asked me to give up, my heart still aches and sometimes I wonder why I continue to follow and sell and sacrifice... But my soul reminds me, through those beautiful words of Peter, of the truth that I know beyond anything else:

Lord, to whom could I possibly go? Only You have the words of life. If I have nothing else in the world - when you have taken everything away, and it is all sold - You are sufficient. You are my treasure.

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