My son is 19 months old and loves playing with things he is not supposed to. His two favorite “toys” are keys and remotes which then manifest themselves into two problems, We cant go anywhere because the keys are lost in a jar of mayonnaise or somewhere else, or, we can’t work any electronics because at 19 months he has still managed to bring down the whole technological system in my house. He refuses to give up keys or remotes when he has them. The best strategy we have come up with to get rid of them is to offer him something else, “Patrick, instead of those keys how about you play with this awesome…CRAYON!” He looks at us like we are insane as if he is thinking, “why on earth would I give up these marvelous keys for some crummy old crayon I could have grabbed if I wanted to. We have just conceded to getting spare sets of keys.
As a youth pastor I spend a lot of time wrestling with how best to reach, communicate, and inspire the next generation of young people around a single idea: following Jesus is the best way to live your life. The confusion is this: we understand Church, Christianity, following Jesus, whatever you want to call it, to be about giving up something great for something mediocre at best. We think Pastor’s and church’s goals are to convince you to take something lesser by making it seem like something its not.
I love cupcakes. They are delicious. I am not sure what makes a cupcake more delicious than an average cake, it could be that cupcakes are en vogue currently and there is no difference whatsoever, but my mouth tells me that when the choice is between cupcake and slice of cake, you take cupcake.
Now here’s the thing, if you told me that instead of eating a delicious cupcake I would be able to eat a bowl of broccoli, I would laugh in your face. I might actually take offense that you found my intelligence so low. My son may actually take you up on this because (a) he loves broccoli and (b) he is two years old and lacks discernment. I, however, want nothing to do with your broccoli when I have my cupcake. Imagine you have your favorite food/dessert and someone offered you something you didn’t much care for. Why would you take it?
You could tell me that broccoli is better for me (it is) you could tell me about the risks of diabetes, the potential recall of eggs from a certain area that could have been used in my cupcake, the recent study that found a link between cupcakes and bird flu, I don’t really care… it’s a cupcake, and I love them!
Jesus is broccoli for most of us. We misunderstand him. And so a well meaning follower of Jesus will come by and tell us all the benefits of Jesus, tell us all the pitfalls of not following Jesus, tell us how we know it’s enjoyable now but in the long run it could harm you, and most of us really don’t care. We think for someone to follow Jesus they have to concede to have the lesser and hope that he may eventually pay off. All the while we watch our friends enjoying sugary delight.
Now what if I had a cupcake for you the same as yours. And what if I told you that yours may or may not contain a razor blade. It is still made with the same delicious ingredients, still offering the same potential delicious splendor, but also containing a dangerous, harmful, maybe even deadly contaminant. It may not, but it likely could. Then what If I offered you the other cupcake and I could guarantee this one did not possess a harmful item. The same ingredients, the same oven temperate, the same everything, but it wasn’t going to hurt you. Which would you take? Unless you work for the circus, you are taking the one that doesn’t involve swallowing razor blades.
Jesus saw himself as a cupcake. He really did. He unapologetically told people that they should follow him, not because it was less, but because it was more. In John 10:10 he was talking to a group of people, some legalistically religious, the guys who thought you weren’t allowed to have cupcakes who we will call the broccoli only guys. Some others who maybe wanted nothing to do with Jesus, (they are on a cupcake only diet). And then there is a bunch of people in between. Jesus looked at them and said., “guess what, you all think you have me figured out, you think this is about rules, but its not, you think this is about regulations and its not, this is about having a full life. And I came to give you a full life.” The Greek words he uses for “full life” actually mean a life that contains more than you can imagine, both now and forever.
Just before that passage, at the beginning of John 10, Jesus told a story of people sneaking into a sheep pen. “You know they are up to no good,” he said. When I was in high school we played a war game with nerf guns where we would try to assassinate fellow classmates anywhere but church or school. We would literally sneak into their homes when their parents were making dinner and burst into their kitchen with a blaze of nerf fire. There was a reason we didn’t go through the front door, but we were quickly escorted out of it. But then he said, “I am the Gate, anyone who comes to me will be cared for, they will come and go freely.” Those who don’t go through the gate have to climb in and out, always worried about getting caught, being in the right place, etc. But Jesus says, “listen, if you really want to be in there, just come to me, you will enter and exit freely. There isn’t restriction but freedom when you follow me.”
The point of opening scripture, of gathering together with people who are also trying to follow Jesus, of going to God directly and talking, is to see things that we otherwise couldn’t see. It’s not about stopping stuff, giving up stuff, and living restricted so that God will be happy with you. Its about seeing that a life without God can be fun, but also hazardous. That when we live without God we are missing out of more, not less. God is already happy with you just as you are, but he also wants to offer you something you can’t get on your own, a full and abundant life.
It’s worth exploring. Don’t you think?
What I love about following Jesus is he doesn’t look at people who don’t know him and say, “stop this, cut that out, quit that, you are embarrassing me,” he says, “come be with me, follow me, pursue me as I pursue you, learn how you can have a greater life than you ever dreamed possible on your own, I love you for who you are and I am going to make you into someone even better!”
About 3000 years ago, a guy named Solomon made it his mission to try to pursue every avenue the world told him would gain him full life. He talked about his pursuit in the book Ecclesiastes. He had unlimited resources and yet he remarked that it didn’t buy him resources. He had unlimited power, and that didn’t do it for him, He had lots and lots of wives and yet it didn’t bring him ultimate happiness. Actually what he records is that the more he tries to pursue everything on his own the more he felt (now here’s the key) meaningless. He uses the Hebrew word for vapor or emptiness 4 times in the second verse (the first verse he just introduces himself). The more he tried to find his happiness on his own the clearer it became that everything he found was vapor.
So was Solomon just a Nietzsche before his time? Not quite.
At the conclusion of his 12-chapter excerpt he says, so what are we supposed to do then? Follow God, its what we were created to do.
1000 years later, Jesus stood in front of a group of people and said, I have come to give you what all of you want, meaning. You don’t have to earn it, you can’t buy it, you will never find it on your own. I have it, and I want to give it to you.
What do you really want? Success? Fame? Experience? Wealth? Meaning? Talent? Power? It’s actually all based on bondage. Talent is only good until there is somebody better. Money is only good until it runs out. Meaning is only good until no one recognizes it any more. Fame is only good until it fades. But what if Jesus knew that. What if he saw that? What if he said, I am not asking you to give up on all you want, I am just telling you the only way to have abundance of what you want is to turn it over to me. The only way to have freedom, instead of letting the things you want bind you, is to turn it over to me.
If you are willing to do whatever it takes to really attain a full life, then Jesus might just be worth exploring. Not because he restricts you, but because he frees you from restrictions. Not because He keeps you in, but because he is the only way you are truly let out.