No easy way

4/18/2008

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."--Matthew 7:13-14

Every day, the advertising industry bombards us with claims that we can change the way we look, who we are, and everything else about us--in just a few easy steps. Daily, we see, hear, and read how we--the consuming public--can make ourselves smarter, thinner, more muscular, more beautiful… in mere hours or days.

Try this experiment: When you next shop for groceries, take note of the island of overflowing products beside you while you wait at the check-out counter. On that expensive piece of real estate, advertisers pack the shelves with items to catch your attention at that last moment before you pull out your wallet. Magazines, tabloids, candy, soda-pop, and gum are only a few of the products crowing for you to pick them up.

When you do, you should hear advertising bells and whistles chorusing, "Gotcha!"

That attractively packaged publication or snack is in your basket, out the door, and on its way to your house.

Recent magazine headlines that beckoned to me: "30 Days to Less Stress, More Energy," "Shrink Your Stomach--A 4-Week Weight Loss Plan," "10 Easy Steps to a New You," 5 Things You Can Do to Change Your Personality," and "The 6 Secrets of a Successful Woman."

We should be wise enough not to buy into those flashy claims. Yet our purchases discount our wisdom.

The marketing firms keep putting outlandish claims on the fronts of glossy journals because too many of us want to believe them. Deep inside, we want to think it is possible to spend only a little time and not much effort to look better, be smarter, and all those other attributes we want.

Let's not fault the advertisers for such claims. Instead, we're gullible.

Sadly, such quick-and-easy claims for a better life have found their way into churches. Some Christians want to believe that being faithful is accomplished in a few easy steps. They decide sacrifice, denial, struggles, crosses to bear, and tribulations to experience were all right during the time of Jesus--but not now.

Before you put away your Easter crosses and plant your lilies, let me emphasize: There is no easy way for a follower of Christ.

At some point in your Christian journey, you must understand that it is not easy to remain faithful without questioning; it is not easy to completely trust God and to admit we're not in charge. It's not easy to walk that second mile, turn the other cheek, or love your enemies. If you think faith is easy, I want to know what kind of Christianity you're practicing.

William Booth, who is the founder of the Salvation Army, predicted the chief danger for churches and Christians is that a time will come when "we will have a religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without rebirth and renewal, atonement without sacrifice, and heaven without hell."

Jesus says this, too, as recorded in a number of New Testament verses. "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life" (Matthew 7:14). "Whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27).

Nowhere does he mince words just to win over people. He always tells people what the cost of discipleship will be.

Years ago, when someone joined a church, that person was required to attend classes to learn about the expectations that accompany membership. A new member was taught about being a follower.

Today, the fastest-growing church in the Oklahoma Conference requires new members to attend a class, where duties and responsibilities are taught.

Faith that costs nothing is worth nothing.

I truly believe people are hungry for meaning and significance.

There is no easy way to understand God's word (the Bible) unless you read it daily. There is no easy way to develop your prayer life other than constant practice. There is no way to learn to care for a hurting world unless you go to those who are hurt. Your faith must be cultivated, worked at; it's not as simple as picking up a magazine in a store, expecting to become someone new overnight.

The late W.C. Fields, a notorious atheist, was seen reading the Bible in his hospital room. The nurse knew he didn't believe in God. She asked why he was reading the Bible. His answer: "I'm looking for loopholes."

There are no loopholes. There is no easy way to become a more faith-filled Christian. It is a narrow gate, and it is difficult.

However, it leads to life!


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