Some people have a sweet tooth; I have teeth made of sugar. My grande white chocolate mocha with extra whip and an extra pump of white chocolate epitomizes this. When the barista announces my coffee flavored sugar drink before the morning rush crowd, a tinge of shame comes over me. However, this shame subsides when she announces the next order – a no foam, soy milk latte at 91 degrees with two packets of Splenda and a light sprinkling of hazelnut.
Who would have thought warmed bean water could be so customizable?
Such is life in 2017. We know what we like, how we like it, and we expect the barista to serve our drink to us our way. We welcome suggestions, entertain options, but at the end of the day, it is our decision. We are the captains of our highly caffeinated ships.
With Yeti tumblers in one hand and smartphones (with a customizable case) in the other, we join the saints of old in celebrating, not forsaking, the gathering together of believers. We open our preferred Bible app – whether this is Logos or YouVersion – and read from a translation of our choosing.
But is there ever a point when we give over control and yield to an authority higher than ourselves?
We prefer encourage to command, should to shall. Such absolute injunctions go over about as well as healthy desserts at Thanksgiving. Commands are hard sells in today’s world, especially because of the lack of trust in institutions. According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans’ lack of confidence in institutions registers at historic lows. Seventy-three percent of Americans have little or no trust in the banks. Eighty percent with newspapers. Fifty-nine percent with the church.
A generation ago, almost half of Americans felt they could trust the people around them, but now less than a third think other people are trustworthy. Only 19 percent of millennials believe other people can be trusted. Distrust breeds isolation. One out of two people don’t know their neighbors’ names. In 2004, 25 percent of people said they had no close friend to discuss important matters. That number was 10 percent in 1985.
From this isolated, skeptical position, there are some who enter into the church knowing they want the best for themselves but wondering if church leaders want the same.
As people of the Good Book who teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
His Word is a lamp for our feet (Psalm 119:105) and His Spirit is a guide on the journey (John 16:13). This journey ends in the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11) and along the way is filled with joy (Romans 8:18). We have been commanded to rejoice (Philippians 4:4). Unlike my extra whip, this is not optional.
God died so that we might live (1 Peter 2:24). We don’t survive through life; rather, God wants us to thrive in life (John 10:10). In order to thrive, He has given us His Word filled with commands and His church to obey those commands.
Reading the Bible reveals some crazy stories (Ezekiel 4), interesting instructions (Exodus 28), and obvious commands (Matthew 22). Typically, commands function as invitations for rebellion. “Don’t look at the sun” quickly brings black dots and impaired vision. “Don’t touch this” precedes a new scar. Each transgression painfully reminds us of our parents’ wisdom and our naiveté. The commands were not given to squelch life but to protect the fullness of it.
In the same manner, God’s commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). The Author of Life knows how to get the most out of it, just like Jonathan Ive knows how to get the most out of an iPhone. Not using your iPhone underwater may not sit well with you in the moment, but it allows you to use your iPhone past the moment. God’s commands are not a killjoy but the straightest path to lasting joy. When we hide the commands of God, we also hide opportunities to experience the joy of God.
Some commands are not easy to swallow, like those nutritious Thanksgiving desserts. This is where the Church adds sweetness to our flavor palette (2 Corinthians 2:14-15). Contrary to the child’s hand gestures, the Church is more than a people gathered under the steeple. Rather, the Church is the scattered people of God blessing their community and encouraging their sisters and brothers (Hebrews 3:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Life is tough, God is great and His commands are for our good. The encouragement from a brother can clarify moral ambiguity in the messiness of life and the life-giving words from a sister buoys the spirit of a weary soul.
Thank God we have options at Starbucks. But at church, the Bible is not filled with advice to be heeded but commands to be obeyed.
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J. Nick Pitts serves as Director of Cultural Engagement for the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture.
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