Friday, January 27, 2017

Friday's Essay - Sacrificing Comfort for Christ

Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this message by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

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Image result for comfortableThe longer I live, the more I’m convinced that people seek comfort above everything else and I include health and wealth and happiness. People just, plain like to be comfortable. And I’ll tell you, I believe that desire has a major impact on how the church, the Body of Christ, goes about it’s business in the real world.

But before explaining what I mean, I think it’s important for me define what I mean by comfort. You see, I’m not really talking about something that’s all cuddly and cozy, you know, like a nice warm blanket nor do I have in mind something that’s large enough to provide what we might want, for instance, like a comfortable income. Although both define something that’s comfortable, my definition here is slightly different. You see, in this little essay, when I use the word “comfortable,” I’m thinking about something that’s predictable, something that’s certain, something that’s reliable. In other words, I feel comfort when I have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen next, you know, when I know what to expect. That’s when I’m most comfortable, and that’s what I really want to be. And when you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. For instance, when I know when and how the ball is coming, I know exactly when and how to duck. And when I suspect that there’s a bunch of people on the other side of the door about to shout “Happy Birthday,” I can sort of prepare myself to be surprised. And when I have the playlist, I know what songs to skip and which to listen to twice. Now, that’s what I mean by comfort.

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Of course, this also means that being comfortable isn’t the same as being happy. I mean, even though many comfortable situations are also positive, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. What’s predictable and certain and reliable isn’t, by it’s nature, positive or good or meaningful. For example, if I can predict what violent things my father will do every time he comes home drunk, that may be comfortable because it’s predictable.  But it sure isn’t positive. And if I’m fairly certain that’s he’s going to start hitting me and my brother, that may also be comfortable but not good. And if I can rely on him apologizing when he sobers up and promising never to do it again, that may be comfortable but not meaningful. Defined in this way, being comfortable is not being surprised. It’s knowing what to expect; therefore, my father taking the pledge and trying to be nurturing 24/7 and following through on his word, all those things may be positive and good and meaningful, but when it first happens, man, it’s uncomfortable. I may not know how to respond. I might feel as though something strange is happening. In fact, it may be so uncomfortable that I might unconsciously long and even try to recreate the world in which things a re predictable and certain and reliable. Put another way, I think most of us would agree that change is hard. It makes us uneasy. It creates stress. And I don’t think any of us want more stress in our lives. That would be uncomfortable. We want comfort.

Image result for stagnant churchAnd I think all that applies to our spiritual lives and our life as the church just like it doesn’t to everything else. Frankly, we like to be comfortable in our relationship with God, in what we believe about him and in how we worship him. And to remain in that comfortable, predictable, secure zone, often we resist change. Even being open to the possibility of change seems disconcerting. And even though that, in and of itself, isn’t bad, it can certainly lead to bad things happening. For example, at the very least, it can lead to stagnation, the unavoidable result of only being exposed to ideas that confirm what we already believe and practices that conform to what we’re comfortable doing. And I think that’s about the best for which we can hope. At worst, for the sake of predictability, we can perpetuate ideas and practices that may have lost their relevance decades ago. It’s a little like the young woman who asked her mother why she’d always cut off the end of the ham before baking it. Her mother said that she didn’t know, that was just what her mother did, and that she’d have to ask her grandmother. And when the young woman asked her grandmother, she said the same thing her mother said and told her to ask her great grandmother. And so, when the young woman asked her great grandmother why she cut off the end of the ham before baking it, the elderly woman said, “Oh, that’s easy. I had a small oven.”  You see, we may end up doing things we no longer understand just because that’s the way they’s always been done. In other words, we may continue doing those things because they’re comfortable.

Image result for modern worldAnd even though a case could be made that we’re only hurting ourselves, when you’re talking about the Body of Christ, that’s not the case. I mean, we’ve been charged by Jesus himself to “make disciples of all nations.” That’s our job. But if our focus is on keeping things comfortable for those disciples who have already been made, we may be severely damaging our ability to reach anybody else. And although we may convince ourselves that we’re standing for the truth, we better be sure that we’re not standing for form rather than substance. The truth is eternal, but how we respond is shaped by who we are, including what we’ve always done, in other words, what makes us feel comfortable. And so, if we’re not careful, this desire can not only hurt us, it can damage our outreach.

And for that reason, we might want to ask ourselves if we’re willing to sacrifice some of our comfort for the Jesus Christ. In other words, are we willing to consider replacing some our predictable and reliable forms so that the eternal substance within God’s Word might be effectively communicated to folks who find comfort in other places? Simply put, are we willing to change in ways that may strengthen both our own faith and our witness? Now, that may be the question we need to ask ourselves and more importantly to answer, and I’ll tell you why. Our answer is going to impact far more than our personal tastes and preferences.

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