Corey Bullock – Ahwatukee Campus Pastor
I know you are expecting me to post something about the University of Kentucky Wildcats and their incredible victory over the undefeated Shockers, however, I am going to resist bragging on my Cats for the time being. Instead, I would like to invite you to wrestle with me over a scenario. Here is the premise: is it easier to step into the unknown with the hope of something better or to stay in the familiar with the fear of impending doom. You might immediately gravitate toward the first phrase as your answer, either because of how I stated it positively or because our culture exonerates this mentality, but I would argue that the later phrase is the easiest for us to adhere to. I think we are wired by self-preservation not to step into the unknown. Unless you are particularly adventurous think about how routine your life is. You probably go the same way to work everyday. You probably visit the same grocery store, use the same bank, and sit in the same seat at church (or at least the section). You talk to the same people or at least the same kind of people, read the same genre of books/magazines and eat the same kind of food. I’m not trying to convince you that you live a boring life. I’m just trying to let you know it is probably pretty predictable because we stick with what is familiar for the most part.
This whole topic reminds me of a movie a recently saw with my kids. Have you seen the Croods? Basically, these Neanderthals take on the attitude that anything new or unfamiliar is bad and therefore they live most of their lives in a cave. They are so stuck in the familiar fear mentality that it takes their home being destroyed and their lives in peril before they are willing to venture out. Ultimately, that act of courage is just what they needed not only to stay alive, but also to figure out how to truly live. Now, I know this is a cartoon movie, but there is often good theology in animation.
This whole line of thinking started as I did my daily SOAP reading in Jeremiah 21. If you are not familiar with the Book of Jeremiah then you simply need to know that the entire book is a record of the prophet Jeremiah warning God’s people over and over again that because of what they have done and because they won’t repent, God is going to punish them by sending other nations to kill and capture them. On multiple occasions the Lord makes it clear that allowing many to suffer is the only way to save the few. Well here in Chapter 21:8-9 God is offering a word to the wise when he says, “See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live: he will escape with his life.” We have the benefit of knowing the outcome and seeing this instruction retroactively, but try to put yourself in the shoes of this people. It would be completely counterintuitive to surrender in this situation. Everything you know, everyone you care about, everything you have would be forfeit the moment you step across the line. Although you have this word from a prophet, you have no clue what this barbaric and heathen nation will do to you. You don’t speak the language or know the customs. All you really have is hope in the promise of a God spoken by a man. On the other hand, if you stay, you are not completely sure that anything will happen to you at all. It would be easy to convince yourself that the situation is not as bad as what it appears and therefore neglect to move.
As I read this passage, I found myself not judging but identifying the Israelites that failed to heed the instruction given to them. Scripture informs us the large majority of the people didn’t take God up on his warning, choosing to remain in the comfort of familiarity which resulted in their end. I may have been counted among those that stayed back instead of going out. I would hope that no matter how counterintuitive God’s instruction was/is that I would be willing to follow. The reality is that I try to out think God all the time instead of just obeying him. For these Israelites, all they had to do was surrender. The Lord clearly revealed the way of life. Several hundred years later, God stands in flesh to a different generation in a much different situation but they instruction he offers is really the same and just as hard to comprehend. Most of us at Central are familiar with the first part of Luke 9:23 but catch it in the context of verse 24:
Then [Jesus] said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.