Life is hard. I tend to write about trials because that’s real life; life stinks sometimes (honest, I don’t make this stuff up). Many times we face a situation and must decide which way to go — the easy way or the hard way? It’s easier to take the wide path than stand your ground. Yet how would Jesus handle the same situation? Would He bail out? Or stay the course? Would He think of others? Or Himself?
A doctrine blows through churches saying the Christian life is easy; Jesus wants you to have a new car, a big house, and a Lexus. Unfortunately that false doctrine ignores most of the church experiences through most of the last two thousand years — suffering for standing up for what’s right. But if Jesus is our example, what life did He lead? Did He ever promise us an easy life? Sometimes life is hard; choosing the right path takes courage, determination and commitment.
But the response to commitment and responsibility uncovers a problem; we haven’t learned from Jesus’ example and lose our sense of duty and commitment, instead getting our theology from TV (You deserve a break today, you know). I don’t understand how people can walk away from their children and say they’re done with them. I don’t understand how you can walk out on your spouse because you think they’re not what you thought (or wanted). Too many people only live for themselves — and that’s not the way Jesus taught us.
I just don’t get it. Granted, I’m an old guy from a different time, but the thought of walking out on kids just doesn’t register in my brain. I just don’t see how anyone could ever hurt a child, walk out on them, or mistreat them. But it’s not just that. How many marriages end in divorce because someone became disillusioned or ran into tough times? (Of course, nobody ever says to stay in an abusive relationship or remain if your safety is in danger). But how many times do we hear the (in)famous “I don’t love you anymore”? If you ever hear that phrase, it means love never really existed, because love isn’t an emotion, it’s a commitment, and a commitment (by definition) can’t be undone.
Commitment. That’s what’s lacking today. Agape is not an emotion, it’s a commitment. If you love your kids, you’ll never abandon them or hurt them. You’ll never cheat on your spouse. Those things just aren’t possible. That doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes or have problems, but quitting isn’t an option — it must not be in your vocabulary.
I wonder if Jesus had the lack of commitment common today — would we still be saved? I doubt it. No doubt He didn’t want to go to Calvary, He did it because of His commitment to us. Does Jesus look down today and have His heart broken as He sees our lack of commitment? Too many marriages end in divorce. Too many pregnancies end in abortion. Too many projects left incomplete. Too much work undone. Too much self.
When Jesus said to take up your cross, what are we to take up? Jesus says to take up your cross (daily) and follow Him. How do we do that? What is our cross? I’ve heard people say something like “I’ve got cancer, it’s just the cross I have to bear”. Certainly I don’t want to belittle those sick or having hard times, but is that what Jesus speaks of? Does He speak of situations out of your control? I don’t think so. Jesus’ cross wasn’t something out of His control (remember He controlled the entire situation), so what must we learn?
Recall back in the garden, as Jesus was about to be arrested, beaten and crucified. What did He pray to the Father? Father, if there be any other way to save man, let’s take it. He didn’t want to go to Calvary, He was committed. And that’s the key for us; the cross is a choice, not a situation. It’s dedication to the Father. It’s commitment.
Commitment. Today we treat it like a dirty word, but what if Jesus quit? Reading His prayer in the garden and the agony of what He knew was about to transpire, He certainly didn’t look forward to it. Yet He stayed the course, not because it was easy, but because it was the right thing to do. Commitment, that’s the cross He speaks of. It’s a choice you make to do the right thing, even if it’s painful. Psalm 15 says “He who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and doesn’t change (Psalm 15:4 WEB)”. That’s the cross. It’s commitment even when it’s not what you want.
We’ve been through the greatest generation, the baby boomer generation, the flower children generation, and generation x. But today we’re in a new phase, generation “I”. As in “I want this” and “I don’t want to do that”. It’s what causes abortion, because I don’t want a child right now. It’s the divorce because I’m not happy in my marriage, so it’s ok if I quit and find someone else. I don’t have time for the Lord’s work, I need a new Lexus.
Perhaps our problem stems from our misunderstanding of love (in Biblical terms). Agape is a commitment, not an emotion. If you base your love for your spouse on feelings, what happens when that feeling isn’t there? What happens during an argument? Agape is a commitment, not an emotion. It means doing the right thing, which isn’t always fun or what I want. It means others come first, and I come last (Men, it means your family comes first — you’re the leader of the house whether you want to be or not).
We hear a lot about self image problems today, and they’re right — we have way too much. It’s what I want, right now, and it doesn’t matter who it hurts. That’s a real self image problem, and it’s called pride. We have too much pride and not enough commitment.
Jesus didn’t quit (although He certainly could have). But where would we be? What would happen if Jesus lacked commitment? It didn’t take much to create the cosmos so we couldn’t blame Him for scrapping it and starting over; He certainly suffered more than we ever will, so we have no right to complain. When we lack commitment we forgot what our job is. Fortunately, Paul reminds us.
Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. (2 Timothy 2:3-4 KJV)
Our job is a soldier of Christ. Not always fun, not always easy. Yet we’re called to that mission, and quitting isn’t an option. Growing up I recall a poster my parents gave me of a football player, all alone on the bench, hunched over holding his helmet. He’s dirty and a little bloody sitting all alone. And in big letters across the top it said “I QUIT!” But in tiny print at the bottom, it said “I didn’t — Jesus Christ”.
Yet today we live in a disposable society. Disposable kids, disposable marriages, disposable DVD players, disposable TV’s. If you’re older you remember something called a TV repair shop. When it broke, you fixed it. Today TV’s are disposable. Sadly, we treat marriage the same way. When it’s not functioning correctly, instead of fixing it we just dispose of it and get another.
The cause for this malady is simple; we don’t have correct perspective. We’re a soldier of Christ; a soldier’s life is a battle. You get muddy and your circumstances aren’t always what you want. A soldier doesn’t live like royalty, and isn’t concerned with getting a Lexus. It’s about commitment. As a soldier, in Paul’s final instruction to his protege Timothy, he reminds us how we should look back on our life.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7 KJV)
We’re in a race — finish well. That means holding on, not quitting, and working through the pain. It means giving up what you want for what your family needs. It means picking up your cross and following Jesus. It means running the race with endurance, knowing it’s a long race and unpleasant situations occur.
Everyone wants joy and happiness in life; too many people look for joy in the wrong place. You won’t find it in possessions, wealth or power (If you could, Solomon would have been the happiest guy on earth). You won’t find it looking inward, but outward. It’s Jesus first, others next and you last. That’s joy.
Part of commitment requires stubbornness (which gets a bad rap sometimes). It’s the attitude no matter what happens, I won’t quit, you can’t fire me, and I’m not going to resign. Too many people treat commitment like a DVD player. When it’s not working right anymore, toss it out and get a new one. Commitment follows Winston Churchill’s famous words (for you young guys, he’s from WWII).
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender …
I watched a movie recently about penguins (March of the Penguins - bet you’ve been wondering when I’d get around to it). Penguins are interesting creatures. During their life they’ll walk seventy miles to a barren place far away from the ocean, where the female lays her egg. At this point she’s close to starvation, and must immediately return the 70 miles to the ocean to get food.
So the guy steps in, placing the egg on his short feet and covering it so it stays warm. During the winter as storms rage all around, he never loses the egg. It’s quite a site to see hundreds of penguins huddled in a mass, each one taking a turn standing on the outside to break the wind so the ones inside can stay warm.
After the female returns, it’s his turn to make the 70 mile trek to the ocean for food. They alternate back and forth, each taking turns keeping the egg warm, and getting food. As spring comes (months later), the egg hatches, and a little baby penguin is born (cigars all around). You then know why they trekked 70 miles inland — as the ice begins to melt, that 70 miles becomes just a few hundred yards; the young penguins have only a small journey to the ocean, yet aren’t near the melting ice which could endanger them.
Thus the penguins life continue. Quite a commitment. What if they had commitment like today? Gee, sitting on this egg is a real downer, I want to go swimming! I’m hungry! This egg thing is uncomfortable! I deserve a break today.
They’d be extinct rather quickly, don’t you think? But if a penguin shows commitment, can’t we? Can’t we stick it out when the going gets tough? After considering what Jesus went through for us, is it unreasonable to be a little more committed?
We all have a cross to bear — choices we make in life which sometimes aren’t fun, yet are the right thing to do. In the Bible, Jesus is the supreme example of commitment. Maybe you can’t be like Jesus, but how about Paul? Or Peter? Or John? All through the Bible we have examples of commitment in the face of adversity. Don’t quit — stand your ground through the storm. But if you can’t be like any of those, at least …
… be a Penguin.