I felt a call to study Chinese. I didn't know why. The puzzle pieces just didn't seem to be coming together. I wanted to help someone, somewhere… but who? How? Where? After some fasting and praying I started to come across material about the persecuted church in China… poverty, suffering, struggle, but God was doing miracles and the Chistians were alive with joy and faith! A fire was lit in me… that's what I wanted! I wasn't going there to help… I was going to learn. How was their faith so alive and full of power? Why didn't we have stories like that in the West? Was it their poverty? Was it their political climate?
In the dictionary, a first world problem is defined as “a relatively trivial or minor problem or frustration (implying a contrast with serious problems such as those that may be experienced in the developing world)”. I guess most of us would agree that a problem like “my coffee isn't hot enough” or “my kitchen isn't the colour I want it to be”, when compared with those living in less than $1 a day, are not “real problems”. But what about us as Christians living in this prosperous developed world? What if the first world church has a lot more spiritual “first world problems” than we realise? How did we end up with things like apathy, complacency, materialism, desire for comfort and security, fear and worry, low levels of faith, self-sufficiency, with all of our “Christianity”? When we read of movements of the work of the Holy Spirit today in places like Africa and Asia, we have to stop and wonder… why aren't we seeing that here?
Then I had a thought… where did Jesus struggle the most when He was walking the earth? Where did He perform the least amount of miracles… and why?
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
1 He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary* and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence* at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Verse 3 is so interesting… rephrased, “isn't this that carpenter's son? This is the kid that we grew up with in our neighbourhood! Look, we know all his brothers and sisters!” Today, we could almost rephrase it, like “Oh yeah, Jesus, He's the guy I grew up with in Sunday School when I was a kid, we celebrate Christmas and Easter, he's the guy whose principles founded our nation… we're a Christian country! … I know all about that Jesus guy…”. Familiarity. Maybe it was that same familiarity that bred contempt in those from his own hometown… maybe that contempt is why they took offense at him… and were stuck in unbelief. Are we “hometown” pals with Jesus?
It's probably a complex issue, and something that can't be over-simplified. Perhaps many of us have become like the third set of seeds in the parable of the sower that were growing, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful (Matt. 13:22). But how much do we think about the fact that we, in our “Christian nation”, might be so familiar with Jesus and so quick to assume we know him by association, because, well, we're a “Christian nation”… that we are like those who are actually stuck in unbelief? Is our Church routine, our religious principles, and our comfortable enjoyment of the blessings we believe God gave us, actually lulling us into an unbelieving familiarity with the Saviour of the world? The Jesus who requires absolute obedience and wants every part of our life? Are our first world spiritual problems more serious than we thought?
In Matthew 7:21, Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”. Isn't that scary? Isn't it… a wake up call?
Most people will acknowledge that Jesus was a wonderful teacher. Most people like the principles he taught about love, mercy, servitude, and humility. But Jesus said, “if you love me, you will obey my commands”. It has taken me a long time to realise that, in fact, I have a lot of unbelief and disobedience in my heart! I actually wasn't doing things like forgiving (Matthew 6:15), taking my thoughts captive to make them obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), being content with much or with little (Phil. 4:12), confessing our sins to one another (Jam. 5:16), believing that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me (Eph. 1:19-20), fearing God instead of fearing man (Matt. 10:28), denying myself and taking up my cross daily (Matt. 16:24-25), doing nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves (Phil 2:3), and believing that “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
Let's cast off our over-familiarity with the Saviour of the World, and come to him believing that he is who he says he is, and that we need him and his power every day of our lives! Not just His principles, with “a form of Godliness but denying it's power” (2 Tim. 3:5)… but with full belief, faith and obedience. Only then will we see him move in power like he promised!