I have a confession: As I’ve been preaching through Mark 8, I’ve been preaching an awful lot to myself. Examining Jesus’ uncompromising command concerning the expected uncompromising response of all who will come after him—“Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me”—has spoken deeply to me. Each week this command has questioned me, convicted me, humbled me, and, strangely, encouraged me. The congregation gets about fifty minutes of it each week while I get at least six days of it! And much is required from those to whom much is given. Much responsibility comes from much revelation. And one of those revelations has been the shameful reality that I love my comfort. I love ease. And I live in a bubble.
Like many, if not most, who are reading this, I am privileged in so many ways. I have good health and, when I am not well, I have access to good and nearly immediate healthcare. In recent days I have experienced something of what it’s like for most of our fellow South Africans when it comes to healthcare. Let’s just say, my eyes have been opened; my bubble of ignorant insulation has been burst.
I enjoy the comfort of living in a house that protects me from harsh elements of the weather. I have access to electricity to heat my home. I have easy access to transportation. And when it comes to my daily bread, well, my cupboards and both refrigerators are well-stocked. In the last week I have sat with those who could not say any of the above. Again, I realised that I live in a very small bubble of comfort that most in our country to do not enjoy.
I have been given the privilege of a good education with parents who were always present to motivate me to steward that privilege well. I recently listened to a brother telling me that children in his area are not able to study because they are taking care of other children in their household. I heard another brother tell me of what amounts to almost complete unemployment in his township. My bubble of taking my blessings for granted was burst.
Further, I also experience the privilege of being able to live out my faith without fear of being put in jail or killed because I identify as a Christian. This is not the case for most followers of Jesus throughout the world. Reading the reports from Voice of the Martyrs or Open Doors, or viewing the Dispatches from the Front videos, is like a sharp pin to my bubble of taking freedom for granted.
I am persuaded that, in many ways, much of my life is lived in a bubble—a bubble of blessings, if you will. I therefore need to get out more. It is important that I be aware of the needs of others. And this awareness calls for me to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Jesus into the world of others.
Let me be clear: I don’t feel guilty for being the recipient of these blessings, privileges, and opportunities—however you wish to label them. I should be humbled by these demonstrations of God’s grace. And I should be committed to stewarding them well. Faithful stewardship requires cross-centred humility, as taught by Jesus (Mark 8:34–38). Jesus entered our world for the cross and changed our world by his cross. When we embrace his redemptive work of the cross, we are to follow his example. As we follow him, we will probably find our bubble being broken. That is, as we begin to look at the world as God’s ambassadors, who have been commanded to look at people with a constructive, non-prejudicial set of redeemed eyes, we will enter their world as God’s ambassadors with a view to their wellbeing (2 Corinthians 5:16–21).
It’s for this reason that it’s good for the bubble of me-and-mine to be burst. When I become aware of the needs and difficulties of others, I’m enabled to then constructively engage in blessing others for their good to the glory of God.
Recently, I visited a pastor who lives and ministers in a township within 35 minutes of me. It is an “unserviced” location. He enjoys none of the perks that we take for granted in most of our neighbourhoods. The brother lives on a meagre monthly stipend. He lacks so much of that to which I have access. Yet I felt like I was in the presence of a man who is rich. Joy and hope were all over his countenance.
This brother has an intense desire to help his community—holistically. His priority is their spiritual welfare and so evangelism is his heartbeat. And since he is concerned about their souls, he is also concerned about food and clothes and shelter for their bodies. Because he is concerned about their souls, he is concerned about their education. Because he is concerned about their souls, he is concerned about their children. Because he is concerned about their souls, he is concerned about their safety. Because he is concerned about their eternal welfare, he is also concerned about their immediate wellbeing. That is what the gospel does in those it saves. Those who are converted are not as much concerned with self-promotion and self-preservation as they are with uplifting and protecting the lives of others. Small wonder, since this is precisely the way Jesus lived—and died.
Jesus, if I may put it reverently, left the bubble of heaven and entered the sin-cursed, broken, dangerous, and seemingly hopeless squatter camp of sinners. He did that to save us from our sins, and from ourselves. He did that to save us from our bubble of self-righteousness—a bubble that, like all bubbles, has no real substance. This self-promoting, self-preserving bubble disappears in the presence of the shattering holiness of God, clearly displayed by the cross-work of Jesus. And when this bubble is burst (when we are converted to Christ), his cross continues to call us to leave our bubbles to help those who are living in their own bubbles.
So, Christian, let’s thank God for the blessings that we have, but let’s also pray for sensitivity and practical action to serve those who would love to live in our bubble. As a church, may God continue to bless us so that we will bless others.
One day, when the Lord’s kingdom is consummated, all those who have been saved will live together in a bubbleless world—a world without inequities, without disadvantage—because all will be in perfect harmony with God, with one another, and with the then glorious cosmos re-created for God’s glory and for our good. But until then, let us be willing to have our bubbles bursts and our blessings shared. In other words, let us daily deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.