In my faith journey, I’ve kept the story of ‘The Rich Young Man’ close to heart. This is about the young man who fell to his knees before Jesus and asked, exuberantly, how to receive eternal life. “Follow the commandments,” Jesus tells him, “don’t murder or commit adultery or lie or steal or cheat or dishonor your mother and father.” If the young man’s face could have lit up anymore, it just did. “Excellent,” he says, “I’ve kept all these since I was a boy!” Maybe he really didn’t say ‘excellent,’ but you can imagine him beaming with pride and self-satisfaction. Jesus looked at him and loved him. He saw the young man’s zeal. “One more thing,” Jesus says, “sell everything you own, give to the poor (your treasure is in heaven, after all), then come and follow me.” This is a crucial moment for the young man, and he’s utterly unprepared for it. We’re told in verse 22 “that at this the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth.”
Until recently, I used this story to illustrate what I call those ‘uh-oh moments’ in life. These are the times when we’re asked to take a leap of faith and follow Him. There’s a cost, of course. Fear flashes through our minds and we either trust that He will meet us after that first step or we turn away. The rich young man didn’t have the faith to follow. Now it’s easy to be critical of him because, well, he’s rich. “I’m not rich,” we catch ourselves saying, “I wouldn’t turn away from Jesus.” It’s a good narrative; it makes us feel better. And to be honest, I’ve had those thoughts, too. But I realized this morning that I am the rich young man. I want to love and serve when it’s convenient. I want to believe that I’ve done enough, that I’ve racked up enough goodness and that I can coast for a few days. I’m telling God, “Excellent! I’ve kept the commandments. Do I get the prize now?” I am the rich young man. When my faith is brimming over I run to Him and declare my love. When I’m hurting or lost, I fall into His arms. But when He asks me to give up a part of my life, I act like I’ve been hit in the face. I am the rich young man and I thank the Almighty God that though I turn from Him, He will never turn from me. All He’s asking of me is to have faith. That’s all … to just have faith.
Ted preached about this several years ago. I was new to the church, learning what it meant to have a relationship with God, and he laid out this awesome message about being a Christ-follower. It flew right over my head. It sounded good and all (if you’ve ever heard Ted preach you would know what I mean), but it didn’t stick. “If you know the right thing to do and you don’t do it, it’s a sin.” “Ok,” I thought, “I’ll work on that.” You see at the time, I was still embracing this whole Jesus-loves-me-and-wants-to-have-a-relationship-with-me thing. I was, as Paul describes in Corinthians, a babe. As I’ve grown in faith, though, I have a better understanding of this scripture. And because of the responsibility it evokes, it makes it on the top ten list:
“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” (NIV)
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, popular or fun. In fact, doing the right thing, according to Jesus, is like going through the narrow gate. Much easier is it to travel the road that is wide, but that’s the road that leads to destruction, as tempting as it may be. I’ve seen this first hand with my ministry: the enemy attacks (surprise!) and I lose the vision of my calling. This happened recently in an ever so subtle way. Of course I was certain that God was with me, but I got distracted. I convinced myself that I had two choices: either grow my relationships within the church or continue to go out and build relationships with those on the corner. It seemed like I had a clear choice. But really, there should be no choice. Setting aside the ministry to become more invested in the church, even for a brief time, was the easy way. I say easy because sometimes it’s challenging to minister to the homeless. At times it’s frustrating, lonely and heart-breaking. Some days I spend more time on the corners or in the camps than I do with my family. And though some of the guys drift off or move on, you can only pray that the seed planted will bear fruit in time. The right thing to do, though, is to stick with it, serve and love and develop those relationships that will save. This is what James meant when he spoke of doing the right thing. Because in the end, doing the right thing not only keeps me from sin, but might also keep another from sinning as well.