Friday, June 20, 2008

Afflict the Comfortable

“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That phrase often serves as a succinct job description for those who serve as church pastors. The “comfort the afflicted” part is easy to understand. But the “afflict the comfortable” part carries complex implications. One of which is that most pastors could easily be considered “comfortable” so any affliction we think we are to put upon others should rightly land in our own laps as well.
While the Bible abounds with words of great comfort—Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” being a well-known example—it also abounds with words of admonition and challenge. If we want the words of comfort, we must also receive the words of admonition. And that’s where things get a little sticky.

Some of the most pointed words remind us that we don’t get a “bye” where suffering is concerned if we really want to be followers of Jesus. He told his followers, “The student is not greater than the teacher.” Now, I suspect that a lot of students like to THINK they are greater than their teachers, but they are not. The point: if Jesus could not escape suffering and being called evil and being hated, the students, i.e., those who follow Jesus, shouldn’t expect to find it much easier.

So why did so many people hate Jesus? Because, among other things, Jesus unmasked their hypocrisy, their pretend lives, the times they had taken the easy path of compromise with the pressures of the world around them rather than the hard path of standing up and saying, “No, this is not right. I will not go that direction.” Every culture, every time, every people group presents temptations to give us, to do things that seem to make life easier, to compromise the basics of living as full humans as God created us. In the first century, the temptations were to just get along with the ruling class so their taxes would not get higher and their burdens greater. So what if “getting along” meant a little cheating, a little lying, a little mistreatment of certain people, a little winking at those who just pretended to be religious in order to gain favor and position. What difference would it make if their comfort levels could be increased?

Oh yes, what difference would it make? According to Jesus, it means the difference between life and death, between living in the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of hell. And people really, really didn’t like those words. They are just too hard—and the best way to stop them is to get rid of the person who is bringing them.
As I look around the world today, those similar compromises are all around us. The ones that concern me the most are the compromises we’ve made where children are concerned. It seems that we’ve permitted the media to make decisions about the moral base that our children will build their lives upon—and that, in my opinion, is a very, very shaky base. The hyper-sexualization, the glorification of violence, lack of respect for intellectual attainment, nearly complete disregard for the necessity of building healthy spiritual lives for our children and youth.

Oh yes, we are comfortable. And we may be destroying the next generation in our comfort.

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