Running from the Father
After I got out of Bible College, I rented a room in a large house in Westlake Village, CA. One of the men who lived in the house was Pat. Pat was one of those people who seemed to be forever on the search for a significant life but never found what he wanted. He moved from one place to another, one job to another, one set of friends to another, but never settled on anything. One day Pat, who knew I was a minister, was telling me he was searching for the Father. He went on and on about this search, telling me he was reading some of the Chinese mystics, hoping they would give him the wisdom he needed to find the Father, or whatever he thought the Father should be. After listening to him for a while, I finally said, “Pat, I don’t really think you’re looking for the Father.”
“Yes, I am,” he replied.
“No, you’re not,” I said.
“Yes, I really am,” Pat said.
“No, you’re really not,” I said. “And I’ll prove it.”
“How?” he asked.
I said, “The Father has instructed me to tell you I can lead you to Him.”
“No He didn’t,” Pat said in a hurry, and then he stopped short. It seemed I caught Pat in his own lie. You see, Pat didn’t really want to find the Father, because when he did it would mean he’d have to make different decisions. It would mean Pat would have to change his lifestyle and live for the honor of the Father he claimed he was searching for. He could no longer run from one place to another, one job to another, one religious worldview to another. It would mean Pat would have to make a stand, choose a side, declare his allegiance to one God among the many he found attractive, and Pat wasn’t ready to stop running.
“The Bible is too thin”
Instead of arguing with my claim the Father sent me to show him the way, Pat took another tactic. He said, “You know. I’ve read the Bible. Compared to other religious writings, the Bible is too thin.” What he meant was he didn’t think the Bible had enough substance to it. That other religious writings, such as the Chinese mystics, had more meat for him to chew on and wisdom to live by.
“Really?” I said. “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you take just three chapters out of the whole Bible, say, Matthew 5, 6 and 7; also known as the Sermon on the Mount? After you’ve been able to live out those three chapters you can come back and tell me the Bible is too thin.”
We know that all Scripture is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, training (2 Tim. 3:16), and “God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). However, it seems that some parts of Scripture tend to dig us out and reveal more truth about who we are than others. The Sermon on the Mount is one of those sections of Scripture that just goes to the core of who we are, never giving an inch of ground to selfishness or excuses, but always pointing us to the truth of God as it compares to the way we would really like to live. This is what my roommate in California was encountering. He wanted God to accept and approve of his chosen lifestyle, but when it came to actually hearing what God was saying to him, he turned every way but towards the Cross of Christ. So, when I challenged him with this reality, he chose to run from Jesus instead of embrace Him.
I’ve found some Christians who do the same thing. When confronted with the true Christ versus the Christ they’ve built up through their religion or their selfish desires, they ignore the true Christ and replace Him with an idol that has the appearance of Christ, but lacks the power of the Spirit to make a difference in their lives. They are Christians who spend more time pursuing toys than truth. They can go on and on about the latest apps on their new phone but show little interest in applying the Scriptures to their lives. They attend church at their convenience and Bible study rarely, just as long as it doesn’t interfere with friends, family, vacations, sporting events, sleeping in or Sunday’s lunch at their favorite restaurant. They want just enough of Christ to save them from the penalty of their sins, but not enough of Christ to actually make them change their life. All of this works well for these so-called Christians until they encounter Matthew 6.
As I said, all of Scripture is useful to us, but there are certain parts that hit closer to home than other parts, and that’s the case with Matthew 6. We all like to think we know ourselves pretty well. Since we’re in church, we’re confident we’re good people, acceptable to God and accepted by everyone in the church. No, we’re not perfect, but we’re good enough. But then we get to Matthew 6 and we see we’re not all we’ve promoted ourselves to be. In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus says, “When you give…pray…fast.” Not “If,” but “When.” Sure, most of us give, but how often do we do so in complete anonymity above our tithe? Of course we pray, but how often do we make prayer a lifestyle? It seems strange to most of us that some would enjoy standing in front of others and going on and on in a fervent prayer that covers everything from the salvation of the kid next door to the needs of missionaries in China, specially when most of our prayers are limited to a blessing over our meal and a quick remembrance for healing for someone on the prayer chain. Then, when it comes to fasting, well, that’s good for the real spiritual people, monks and nuns and the like, but is Jesus really asking us to go without a meal? Is He crazy? You see, if we’re all honest, Matthew 6 will challenge all of us in one way or another, not just my roommate Pat.