I was having a discussion with a few friends of mine over the last few days. One of these men is my best friend from high school. He lives in Tanzania and has work most his adult life with the peace corps and with USAID. The other man is a quite successful business man. He is in real estate and owns a business with about a dozen franchises. That’s pretty big bucks. As we were talking one of the men said, “I am a generally good person”, and in fact, he probably is generally a pretty nice guy with good values.
It is funny the topic of religion was brought up by them and not me. Bringing up religion is not something the follower of Jesus really needs to do very often. I find everywhere I go people are constantly bringing up religion. I go to lunch with non-christians every day, and I never bring up religion. Nonetheless, the topic is probably the most dominant of all topics. I can even say, “Now, I didn’t bring this up ya know” and, at their initiation, launch into some scripture filled explanation of the beauty of the cross of Christ.
Anyway, so this man contends that he is a pretty good guy generally speaking. I would bet that he is, in fact, much "nicer" than I am. In fact, by the world’s standards, I am not particularly nice at all. It is this not being nice that constantly surfaces the religious questions people have. My rich friend's statement about being a generally good person was a natural self defense against my answer to another question he had asked.
“So what have you been doing lately?”, he asked. As you will see simple warm and pleasant conversations just tend to touch upon kingdom principles sooner or later.
“Yeah, we just moved into our new house”, I said.
“We just got a new house too. We live in La Canada. I bought my mom and dad’s house on Nice Street. Does your mom still live in Newport.”
“No, she has moved a few times. She has done pretty well for herself. From Newport to Corona del Mar to San Marino to Altadena and now she cashed out and lives in a Condo in Old town.”
“Same with us, with housing prices going up and all, we have done real well.”
“Yeah, Jane and I are looking to do some down grading. I have a vision I call from Cerritos to Compton. We started in Artesia (which is near Cerritos and is a pretty upper middle class neighborhood) and now we down graded to Bellflower. The goal is to live as simply as possible until it feels very natural to move our family to Compton or some similar underdeveloped area. Part of being a Christian is to live as simply as possible to be a witness against materialism and to be free to give sacrificially, but at the same time we struggle to perfectly live out the vision.”
“Our company does some charity work. Last year we raised 100,000 dollars for local charities.”
“That’s good money.”
“So you believe that only Christians go to heaven? I am a generally good person.”
Now, analyzing this actual conversation. From whence on God’s green earth did that question come from bout only Christians going to heaven? Well, the fact is it naturally came as a self defense from the conversation. I made a statement about my view of righteousness. Saying that my vision is to live simply. I am intentionally implying that simplicity is a virtue and that to walk with God one must seek virtue. In order to enter the kingdom, our righteousness must exceed that of the successful in life even the successful people who cloth their self-centered pursuits in religious clothing. All of this perspective is behind my natural and smooth flowing discussion about life. But such a subtext, told in story but not yet explained in principle, puts this rich man on the defensive. Without even being aware of it, his inner person is saying, “He seeks to be simple and I just spent $40,000 on a kitchen remodel”.
To his question, I answered, “It is not what I believe that matters, but Jesus did say, 'It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.'”
Now this answer might not be the best. The best answer might be (probably is) what Jesus said in a similar situation and which I have only thought of in retrospect. Maybe, I should have said, “Would you like to go to heaven?” Hopefully, he would answer. “Well I imagine it is better than the alternative.” Or maybe, a healthy American, “yes”. To this Jesus, I think, would reply, “If you want to go to heaven (inherit eternal life) then sell all your possessions and give them to the poor and follow me.” Or in our case, “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor and become a follower of Jesus, and, today, you will enter a new life that will be indestructible even by death.”
This is the proper call to salvation for these friends of mine. This call of salvation is quite different than the call we have been taught, but it is how Jesus, our Lord and Teacher, our only teacher and leader, would have addressed my friends. This is how Jesus addresses all of us today.
Today, is the day of salvation, and, apart from any work, we can have His kingdom today. Today, if we hear His voice and if we do not harden our hearts, we can enter the kingdom. The prophet, Jesus, speaks to us today. He stands and says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is within reach, today!!”.
Lord, grant us courage and power to live this life today. Let your power and your life and your faith fill our hearts and minds that we may know life and have a witness to Your present kingdom and the life of following the King of Kings - a life that is truly called "blessed".
tags: materialism; Kingdom of God; Gospel; emerging; emerging church; House Church; religion; Christianity