If you look at a book like Jeremiah—which is one of those Old Testament books filled with God’s judgment and intervention—you will see that God keeps saying things like, “Your evil deeds have no limits, You do not seek justice, You do not promote the case of the fatherless, You do not defend the just cause of the poor; Should I not punish you for this?”
Continuously, throughout the Old Testament, it is as if God is saying, “I keep telling you to do things my way—but you want to do things your way. There will be a consequence if you continue.” In our church today, in the West, we function as if we are immune from that process.
Honestly, it seems today that we are often in the practice of excusing ourselves from the kinds of requirements God has for us, while demanding that the lost conform to our moral demands—and saying that it is ok—and that there is no consequence to it. This is just simply the wrong way for us to function.
Martin Luther King Jr., in his famous letter from the Birmingham prison told the church that God’s judgment was on the church now as never before. He told them that they were meant to be a cause for justice, but that they had failed. He talked about all the spires that are across our country, pointing up to the Heavens—but he asked—“What God are you worshiping in these churches?” King asks a very important question, and a very valid one. We must be very real when it comes to the reality of the nature of what we are doing, but also the reality of the hope that is to come. I fear that at the moment, we focus very much on the hope of salvation, but we often overlook reality and just what we are doing to ourselves or to the people around us. As a result, things continue to spin out of control.
If you think about the churches in persecuted countries—places where it is punishable by death to be a believer in Christ—you will see a church that has such a beautiful focus. They are very united. They are very dedicated in their worship. They love in ways you cannot imagine. They are persecuted and beaten for all of this—and some are killed—and then they go back out to the very people that are persecuting and killing them—and love them and serve them all over again.
I think about young people today. Many of them don’t know at age 25 what they want to do with their lives. Many are still the same way at age 35. It is almost like they are waiting for someone to help them find out what it is that they are supposed to do with their lives. We live in a culture that is willing to try anything—and give it a go—but they are not willing to commit to any one something. A friend of mine had lunch with a British general who was in charge of officer selection in their army. He asked the general a penetrating question: “How do you breed leadership in the absence of commitment?” The general told my friend that the army had no answer to this question, and they had been asking it for years.
Later that same day, my friend happened to meet a man who was recently retired from the LAPD. He told him about the conversation he had with the general, and then asked him the same question. The man told him,
“It’s funny that you ask that. For the last 5 years of my career, this has been our biggest problem. We could not figure it out. We tried desperately to figure out how to breed leadership in the absence of commitment. We brought in consultants, motivational speakers, analysts—we spent millions of dollars trying to answer this question. We couldn’t answer it.”
This culture is drifting. People feel uncommitted to anything. The reason is: they are looking for leaders who are willing to be utterly committed and strong on the difficult issues we face in life, but also be willing to be held accountable when they are wrong. They want someone who sees the cost, and is willing to pay all. When we see leaders who are willing to face up to the cost of leadership, and the truth in their own personal lives, and then also corporately—whether it is in an institution like a university, a church, or in politics—it is not at the exclusion of judgment, but in the presence of it—when someone is willing to be held accountable, that wins others over.
Today, what we need are Christian leaders who are absolutely committed to the cause of Christ. We must remember that the cost of being a Christian was never meant to be a small one. It must cost us everything.
I just don’t know that when people look at the church in the West today, they see people whose commitment to follow Christ costs them everything. It seems today, that Christians are willing to give just one day a week. Perhaps, more devastating: The church as a whole—in terms of the cost it expects of followers of Christ— is willing to just take just 10%. It costs more than that.
This has practical implications as well. Many feel like their Christian life just isn’t fulfilling. In fact, 2/3rds of all teenagers who grow up in church are leaving the Christian faith altogether once they get to college. Now, there are some other reasons for this—but might I suggest—one reason is that they are disillusioned. For many Christians, the Christian life just doesn’t have the excitement it should. Many feel as if there should be more—but there just isn’t. They keep attending church, and they want more, but more never comes.
I will tell you this—you will not get out of any relationship that which you are not willing to put in up front. If you want all, you have to give all. If we are only willing to give God 10% of ourselves, we shouldn’t be surprised that our Christian faith doesn’t seem to take over all our life. Either we will have to reconcile ourselves to a very mediocre form of Christianity, or we will give ourselves over wholly to him.
A guy named Mark Davies, who used to run covert operations for the SAS (the British version of the Navy SEALs—after retirement—got involved with an Christian evangelistic organization named RZIM. He explained to them that he wanted to give the same level of commitment to Christianity that he gave in the Special Forces. So—after some training, he was allowed to travel into some hostile countries with some of their top evangelists. These are countries in which sharing the gospel of Christ results in having your head removed from your body. It is a very effective deterrent. There are no repeat offenders.
Upon arriving in one specific country that is hostile to Christianity, the leader asked him, “Have you been here before?” To this, Davies, replied—“Yes, but I have never had to show a passport. I came in by a HALO parachute insertion.”
9 days later, when they left the country, the leader asked him, “What did you think? Is this what you were looking for?” To this Davies welled up with tears and replied,
“I am part of a church that is arguing about what type of music we should sing, how long the service should last, and what color the carpet should be.” He continued, “When I was in the SAS, there was no hardship we weren’t prepared to endure, no price we weren’t willing to pay, no cost we weren’t prepared to contemplate. We believed wholly in the mission we had been given by our government.” He continued, “Now I have come to Jesus Christ. The mission he has given me is more important than anything any government has ever asked me to do. My fellow servicemen and women live all around the world. We have the same calling—the same mission. But where is the commitment, where is the sacrifice, where is the willingness to pay any price? I don’t see it. All I see is bickering about aesthetic preferences. Today, after being around those willing to give all, so that one person could hear the gospel, I suddenly feel alive in a whole new way.”
Our churches today are forgetting the mission, the cost, the willingness to pay all. They are forgetting that it costs everything to be a follower of Christ. This is not reserved to the members. It pains me to say that it is a self-indictment of many pastors as well. As a result—we are leaders in the absence of true commitment. We are breeding Christians who are not committed to Christ.
We have no intimacy with Christ. No intimacy means we have no capacity for his Spirit in our lives. Without the Spirit, we lack any authority in the culture. I fear that we are producing many Christians who aren’t willing to respect themselves, much less win the respect of—and influence anyone else.
We need to look very different.