Being a Christian can be challenging at times.
Case in point: in front of my house, I have a driveway which can comfortable accommodate one vehicle and space on the road for two more cars to be parked. As my house has three vehicles, this is an ideal setup. But here's the problem: Other people live on my street. Some of those people have more vehicles than parking spaces. And sometimes those people even invite guests over to their houses. And those guests...you're not going to believe this...have cars of their own.
I bet you can guess where this is going.
Sometimes, I arrive at home to find that other people have parked in front of my house. But what's even worse is that at least a couple times each month, I arrive to find one person has taken up both spots in front of my house.
Now, at this point, perhaps I recall what Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount, that God blesses those who are meek. God blesses those who are poor. God blesses those who are merciful. God blesses those who are peace-makers. God blesses those who are persecuted.
After recalling these words, I would choose to be gracious and kind and understanding and forgiving in order to honor God and receive his blessings.
OR, I could go with option B: I can ignore Jesus. And that's when Christianity becomes much easier. Instead, I can be angry, fuming at my inconsiderate neighbors. I NEVER park in front of anyone else's house (unless I'm forced to) so HOW DARE they be so RUDE!
Christianity is far easier when I ignore Jesus. He asks me to deny myself and take up my cross and follow him.
I can live a Christianity that promises me salvation and makes suggestions I can follow or ignore, depending on whether I think they're a good idea.
Now, let's be honest, my version of Christianity probably isn't going to make much of an impact in the world around me, but at least it isn't difficult like denying myself and carrying a cross would be.
You may be reading this and thinking that this sounds like a terrible idea, and I agree with you...but practically isn't this what we're all doing anyways? I'm tired of being a doormat to my inconsiderate neighbors. To fix this, I'd have to build relationships and have respectful conversations, or to be more forgiving and understanding. All horribly difficult options.
Anger and looking out for old number 1 are way easier.
I'm reading a book called Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus right now. It looks at how theology in Harlem in the early 1900s influenced Dietrich Bonhoeffer so much that Bonhoeffer was willing to stand against and defy the Nazis in Germany in the years ahead of him.
As I was reading the book, it speaks of how influential writers in the Harlem Renaissance would point to the Sermon on the Mount (btw, this is a topic I wrote a whole book about recently) as a juxtaposition against the societal oppression levied against black Americans by what was supposed to be a Christian nation.
But cultural reconciliation is difficult. Accepting that everyone on the planet is my blood brother or sister is difficult. Worshiping a Jesus that dislikes the people I don't like makes things way easier.
And it is this easier version of Christianity, which I so often prefer and follow, which has made people dismiss the Jesus who is proclaimed in name only and not in action by a group who claims to follow him, but in reality tries to drag him along in their own footsteps.
I'm sorry for trying to practice easy Christianity. For accepting what Bonhoeffer himself would describe as "cheap grace" in the years after he learned this truth - a grace that accepts God's forgiveness but ignores repentance and becoming part of a local expression of the Body of Christ.
I often tell people who are getting married that marriage is not hard, but it is hard work. Like a garden. Nobody looks at a garden and says, "that's hard." We look at the garden and say, "that's beautiful," of "those fruits and veggies look delicious." But it takes hard work to get there - weeding, fertilizing, planing, watering.
Marriage takes communication and sacrifice and commitment to have something good.
Christianity takes sacrifice and devotion to make something redemptive and valuable - to be what God intends it to be; a lifetime of transformation which affects the world around us.
I want to reject easy Christianity, which serves me and instead accept the only true version - a Christ centered daily faithfulness. Or as Henri Nouwen so aptly described it: "A long obedience in the same direction."