An old story tells about squirrels overrunning three churches in town. The leaders of the first church, after much prayer, decided the little creatures, pesky though they were, were predetermined to be there. They reasoned there was no way they could or should fight against God’s will. The leaders of the second church decided they should not harm the squirrels no matter how “squirrel-ly” they were. After all, they said, squirrels are God’s creatures, too. They trapped the cute little creatures and set them free outside of town. But, alas, two days later they were back! The third church alone came up with a solution that kept the squirrels away. The elders baptized the squirrels – now they show up only on Christmas and Easter! Yes, I know that story is nutty. And you may think I am for
telling it. Be that as it may, the story touches on a very serious problem that plagues the church in many cases and places. The problem is not just Christians who are absent from the church’s worship assemblies and work activities. For any Christian, habitual, willful absence, whatever the “reason”, is symptomatic of a deeper malady. Many attempt to practice a costless, cross-less, Christianity that suggests followers of Jesus can receive a crown on the cheap, that is without the cost of bearing a cross. But Jesus Christ still calls all potential followers, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). What Jesus preached in this text is what He practiced with life – a profound commitment to do God’s will, not one’s own will (Matt.26:37 42). He went to a cross because He was fully surrendered to God’s will, costly as that commitment proved to be. Christ promises a crowN of life for those who bear the cross, not just wear it or sing about it (Revelation 2:10).

Just about everyone has heard the phase, “No pain, no gain.” It suggests great rewards for those willing to endure hard and even painful work. Consider professional football players. Tom Junod wrote about the high price they are willing to pay for NFL money, fame and glory (“Theater of Pain”, 2-11-2013, Esquire magazine). Junod reported that during the 2011 NFL season, the 2,000 active players suffered 4,500 injuries, an injury rate of 225%! The list included “concussions, torn ACL’s, ruptured tendons, ankle sprains, turf toes, stretched or compressed spines …” and various other painful injuries. Junod was not encouraging this “war even if wounded” mentality. He was simply noting the fact that many athletes are profoundly committed to the point of suffering serious pain to achieve monetary gain and NFL fame. May I offer an application and take-home-point for your consideration? In 2 Timothy 2:1-7 the apostle Paul calls Timothy (and, in reality, every Christian) to a profound commitment. He depicts the level of commitment with words like “strong …endure hardship … soldier … warfare … competes in athletics … hard working” (New King James Version). The truth is profound commitment is not unusual today. People practice it in many fields of endeavor for what 1 Corinthians 9:27 describes as “a perishable crown.” How committed are you to obtain “an imperishable crown?” The idea we can gain a heavenly crown on the cheap is not Biblical. Martin Luther said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” We may never have to die for Christ, but the Bible is clear –– to truly follow and live for Christ involves profound commitment. How much is following Christ costing you?