I went to the state fair last night. While I was there, I saw some folks passing out tracts to people and in fact, my friend’s 12-year-old daughter was given one.
It was your standard sort of tract, with a smiley face on the front of it and the cover asked the rather upfront question: “do you want to be a Christian?”. If you thumbed through it, it had a selection of verses from Romans, telling you how we all deserve to die and unless we come to Jesus we will all suffer, but come to Jesus and everything will be great!
Now, I have no doubt that the people who were passing out these tracts thought they were doing a good thing. It was probably the only form of evangelism they knew about and felt comfortable doing (which in itself says volumes about the state of today’s institutional church, but I digress) so I am not going to pick on them, although handing a 12-year-old girl a pamphlet that tells her that God is not happy with her is probably not a good idea.
No, my problem is the idea that by coming to Jesus everything is wonderful and good. This is a common misconception and one that we followers of Jesus tend to perpetuate.
“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” another tract proclaims, as it claims to explain four spiritual laws to the reader. Now, that is true, as far as it goes, but it is a bit misleading.
You see, Jesus never called anyone to a life of happiness. In fact, he tells us so. Several different times, in fact.
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.
In the world, you’ll have trouble. But cheer up! I have overcome the world.
I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Everyone will hate you because you are committed to me.
If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
That stuff never makes it to the tracts.
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
You see, Bonhoeffer knew the truth; that loving and following Jesus means not peace, but enmity with the way the world works. Followers of Jesus are called to love, but it is active love, not passive love. It is love with work clothes on, Love that is dirty and street worn.
Jesus was no star eyed pie in the sky dreamer; he was a revolutionary, a true radical insurgent. Pilate and the Jews were right; he did intend to overthrow the government but instead of an army, he brought love. Instead of artillery, he brought dignity to the individual.
If you want a nice, easy life, following Jesus is probably not for you. Yes, he has a wonderful plan for your life, but he did for Bonhoeffer too, who was hung by the Nazis. He did for Mother Theresa too, who served the dying for over 30 years. He did for Stephen, who died by stoning, for Jim Elliot who was eaten by cannibals and for the thousands of others every year who literally die for him.
There is no halfway with this Jesus, either. He wants it all.