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Monday, March 16, 2009

Toe the Line

I was thinking last night that one of my biggest weaknesses is a very powerful desire to always be at peace with everyone I meet. I don't enjoy rocking the boat. It truly frightens me to step out on the front lines of an argument and be counted as someone who is "judgmental," or "unreasonable," or just plain "stupid," because I chose to openly disagree.

After all, it is very dangerous to disagree with others. You lose friends, you lose influence, you might even lose your job or your life. If you are going to disagree, it's always easier to stand with a crowd, rather than stand alone. If the opposing side gets violent, you'll have backup to protect you, right?

I don't believe that human beings have instincts; we are controlled by conscious decisions, not non-rational behaviors. If we did, however, I would call this the "herd instinct" in humans. Humans aren't herd animals. They can make independent decisions, and act alone. It takes a lot of courage. We aren't truly sheep, but we like to use the idea as an excuse for our own lack of courage and commitment.

I titled this blog Savvy Sheep to encourage readers to be savvy about what is going on in the world around them. We are smarter than sheep.

My dad once told me a story about a man herding sheep through a narrow gate. As the first sheep approached the gate, the shepherd put his leg across the opening. Feeling the pressure of all the other sheep behind it, this first sheep jumped over the shepherd's leg and continued up the road. The shepherd put his leg back down, but when the next sheep approached the gate, it leaped over an imaginary obstacle and continued on its way. Each sheep saw the last one jump, so it mindlessly did the same. None of them paused to look for the obstacle or think independently and just walk through the gate. Are we really just mindless followers like sheep?

Leaving the Herd and Following a New Shepherd

To be a true Christian, we have to follow Christ, even if it means doing it alone. Jesus never promised us a herd of like-minded Christians with which we could protect ourselves. We aren't even supposed to mindlessly follow human shepherds (i.e., teachers, parents, politicians, or even preachers). When it's our time at the "gate," we are expected to look around and act wisely, even if it means setting a new standard of behavior, or acting contrary to what the crowd is doing.

In Luke 12: 51-53 NIV, Jesus talks about how following Him could cause your familiar "herd" to break with you. He said,
Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
Jesus was not promising us that as Christians, we would be able to make peace with everyone. Au contraire! He was stating clearly that Christianity causes us to make a hard break from others, if necessary. Christianity is not a tolerant or compromising religion!

Later on, Jesus further explained this, saying,
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14: 26-27 NIV).

The word "hate" there sounds severe in translation. The meaning of the original word Jesus used suggests that we cannot value any of those things as something more worthwhile than Heaven. We have to view them all as worthless rubbish compared to the prize we are seeking. We are to follow God through the thick and thin, even unto death, as symbolized by the cross. Jesus' examples, in later verses, bear this interpretation out farther, if you want to read them--Luke 14: 28-35.

Christianity is a personal decision, not a communal one. Obeying God is in your own best interests, because it protects you from the wrath of God and ensures a future of hope and peace and eternal life in Heaven. We should obey, even if everyone around us is refusing to submit to God. That means that we should become a Christian, even if our parents disown us for being a Christian. That means we should become a Christian, even if our spouse leaves us for being a Christian. That means we should become a Christian, even if we are arrested and put to death for being a Christian.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Fear is one of the biggest motivators (and strongest opponents) common to all people. We don't like taking chances at the risk of being hurt. Our worst nightmare is the thought of being completely alone, miserable, and cut off from others. This is what death would be like if we didn't have the option of surrendering our hearts to God, so that He can rescue us.

Jesus warned us not to give up our eternal reward in Heaven so that we can be well-loved in this life. The world teaches that worldly success is evidence of God's favor, but God looks past outward circumstances and judges man by the attitude of the heart. If our hearts value people and things (i.e., the "herd"), and not God and His righteous ways (i.e., the Shepherd), we will be punished.
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' (Luke 16: 19-31 NIV)

What a troubling picture! The prophets' message was dangerous, because it opposed other people and got many prophets killed. The danger didn't devalue it, however, because Lazarus heard and obeyed it, and spent eternity in peace in Heaven.

The rich man, on the other hand, seemed to have everything going for him. He must have had many friends (who ate at his table) and owned many possessions. However He lacked compassion for others, since he ignored Lazarus' situation at his own front gate. Could it be that his friends disapproved of Lazarus, and he didn't want to lose their friendships? Whatever the reason, the rich man's heart did not value God or righteousness. Therefore, he was judged and cut off from God and men. The "herd" wasn't there to make him feel secure any more in Hell.

Jesus' point was that the condition of our hearts is more important than our present circumstances. We should never allow the fear of the "herd" to rob us of our eternal reward.


I've talked about this already, in my previous entry, What is Truth? Heeding the Voice of Truth. We must choose in this life what we really value. Some people value the "herd" more than they even value being correct or knowing the truth.

The stakes are very high. Our future is more important than what people think of us or what they do to us. As Christians, we can't work toward making peace with people when it involves giving up on the truth that we know. If we do, we aren't being peacekeepers--we're being deserters.The battle lines are being drawn. Peace at all costs is too costly!

I'm encouraging you today to take heart, and don't turn your back on God just to be liked by the "herd." You will be rewarded! Keep obeying God, and He'll see you through to the end--which is more than people and possessions can do.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
"He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him."
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10: 35-39 NIV; textual reference to Habakkuk 2: 3,4).

God is the only one who can truly grant us a life of peace. Are you willing to stand your ground and wait for the reward He has promised?


Anonymous said...

HAHAHA!! Most people are like sheep!

Rachel said...

True. It's fine to be a follower, as long as you know the one you are following is trustworthy. That's why this lamb (that's what my name means) decided to follow Jesus.