Leaving Comfort Zones

(The following is from Too Christian, Too Pagan, published by Zondervan. Order your own copy of the book today by clicking on product links.)

C.S. Lewis once said, “ I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly wouldn’t recommend Christianity.”

Jesus promises an abundant life but the route to that life requires the kind of obedience that will regularly challenge your comfort zones. Because most humans are by nature risk averse, your decision to follow Jesus beyond your comfort zones will often make you seem TPTC.

Jesus calls us to leave our comfort zones. The disciples discovered this to be true all the way from their first encounter with Jesus right through the end. His first words were “follow me.” His parting words were “go into the world.” Every step along the way Jesus told his followers to leave everything they knew, their jobs, their homes, hometowns always for unknown destinies. His benefit package was not insignificant. He said he would never leave them or forsake them. He said if they sought his kingdom first, he would provide for their every need.

Now here is the truly exciting news. Nothing has changed. As spiritual descendants of Jesus’ disciples, we are commanded to
go into the world just as they were. There are really only two troublesome elements in Jesus’ commandment to “go into the world.” First, there’s the part about going, and second, the part about going into the world. Other than that it all seems pretty darn doable.

This is all pretty fresh stuff for me. I’m writing this in a Mac Donalds in Naperville, IL. I was evicted from my house by a realtor about an hour ago for entirely respectable reasons. Today our house was put up for sale and by noon we’ve received multiple offers. Realtor Don thinks if the gregarious “yours truly” stays in the house I’ll mess up the deal, so he’s been pestering Kathy all day, begging her to “get that husband of yours” out of the house! So here I sit.

It is a very emotional day and I’ll tell you why. Staying is easier than going. We’ve lived here for eight years and have come to love this place. We’re part of a wonderful church where we’ve been befriended by some of the finest people we know. Our home backs on to a forest preserve complete with prairie grass, bluebird boxes, trails and a river meandering through old oak trees. Our home is located in the world’s nicest neighborhood and is decorated just the way we like it. We are conveniently located near all the things we like–a neighborhood pool and tennis courts, a thirty-plex theater with stadium seating, the best restaurants in the Chicago suburbs and shopping galore. Plus, we’re within an easy drive or train ride to Chicago, a world class city in every regard.

Never mind that we experienced this same rush of emotions when we left Seattle eight years ago, and never mind that we’re moving back to Seattle where we have every reason to believe God will provide more than we ask. Never mind that our entire family is in the Northwest. Never mind that for six of our eight years I longed for the Northwest and couldn’t wait to move back. Now that we can “go home,” we all feel the strongest possible urges to stay put. It’s just a fact of life–staying is easier than going.

When it comes to following Jesus, there is just one problem with this human desire for the status quo. Jesus is always on the move, and he wants us to follow him. Granted, in his life on earth he covered a relatively confined patch of earth. One New Testament scholar calls him a simple, Mediterranean peasant and another refers to his life as rather relatively “provincial.” Visit Israel and you’ll see how small the territory he covered was. Take comfort in this because it means His “going” doesn’t always require traveling great geographic distances.

In our case, we believe Jesus has asked us to physically relocate 2,200 miles away. Sometimes Jesus required that kind of relocation in the first century too. The first Christians heard his words to go to Jerusalem, Judea, and the uttermost parts of the earth and so they obeyed and went to all those places. Listen to the roster of cities where the disciples died and you see their movement-Matthew (Ethiopia), Mark (Alexandria, Egypt), Luke (Greece), John (Ephesus via Rome), Peter (Rome), Thomas (East Indies), Simeon (Persia),

But even if we were staying in Naperville, this “going” business would still apply. Sometimes Jesus told people specifically to stay put and be a witness where they are. After being healed, some new disciples wanted to climb on the gospel bus and hit the road with the traveling Savior. Jesus told many of them to stay in their own village. He wanted everybody to hear the good news, one person at a time, and he figured leaving a few witnesses was the best way to accomplish this objective. You’ve heard of management by wandering around. Jesus was into “sharing the gospel by wandering around.” As the pebble ripples out in concentric circles, so one person can be an expanding presence in their circle of influence.

Now this is the second truly challenging thing about Jesus. While we like to stay in the comfort of our home and church, Jesus tells us to go into the world. Turns out in his view, church and home are havens for rest and recuperation, they are supposed to be safety nets not hammocks! He sends us into the world, and needless to say, the world can be a dangerous place.

I told you where the first disciples died, but not how. As Paul Harvey says, “here’s the rest of the story.” While early on, the church found favor with all in Jerusalem (Acts 2:47) it wasn’t long before it was spoken against everywhere (Acts 28:22) and this growing animosity towards the early Christians extracted a great price from Jesus’ followers. Stephen was martyred outside Jerusalem, Matthew in Ethiopia. Mark was dragged to his death through the streets of Alexandria. Luke was hanged from an olive tree in Greece. John survived a boiling pot of water at Rome, then died a natural death in Ephesus. Paul was crucified in Rome. James the Great was beheaded in Jerusalem. James the Less was thrown from the roof of the Temple and then beaten to death with a club. Phillip was hanged against a pillar at Hierapolis in Phrygia. Thomas was stuck with a spear in the East Indies, Bartholemew was killed by having his skin ripped off while still alive. Jude was shot to death with arrows, Simeon crucified in Persia, Paul had his head cut off in Rome by Nero. (The Amazing Expedition Bible, p 259 Baker, 1997). Not exactly the kind of stories you want to put in the recruiting poster for a new organization.

Nevertheless people keep signing up. The fate of those early Christian martyrs is shared by their spiritual descendents today.

On my trips to China, I’ve heard numerous first hand reports from house-church members who have been imprisoned and tortured for their faith and these stories of modern-day martyrs can be heard in countries throughout the world. While uncommon in the United States, it can happen here as well.

In 1999 we were shocked by the slaughter of twelve students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. A widely reported and confirmed story tells of one student’s final moments at Columbine,
A girl was asked by one of the gunmen if she believed in God, knowing full well the safe answer. ¢â‚¬ËœThere is a God,’ she said quietly, ¢â‚¬Ëœand you need to follow along God’s path.’ The shooter looked down at her. ¢â‚¬ËœThere is no God,’ he said, and he shot her in the head.

Just the day before Columbine, Cassie Bernall. one of the victims, had written a poem and entered it in her diary,

Now I have given up on everything else
I have found it to be the only way
To really know Christ and to experience
The might power that brought
Him back to life again, and to find
Out what it means to suffer and to
Die with him. So, whatever it takes
I will be one who lives in the fresh
Newness of life of those who are
Alive from the dead.

Throughout the centuries relatively few Christians have been martyred for Jesus. We may die of embarrassment, but few of us will face the literal loss of life for our faith. However, it is clear, that staying-in is easier than going-out into the world. But then Jesus never promised us we could stay in our comfort zone. Jesus calls us to go into the world.

‚© 2000 CRS Communications. Dick Staub

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