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  • Randy Nabors

The Kingdom and the Middle Class

Mark 10:25 says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (NIV) I would not want us to miss the the challenge of this verse because we consider ourselves “middle class” and not “rich.” I would say our wealth and power as middle class Americans would put us solidly in the group Jesus was speaking about. Can wealthy people go to heaven, can they get into the Kingdom? Our American Evangelicalism casualizes this teaching of Jesus by immediately referring to verse 27 where it says, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (NIV) So we tell folks if you just believe in Jesus you will be saved, and that salvation is for everyone, and salvation is a miracle of God’s saving grace. So, no problem, rich people can indeed be brought into the Kingdom. What goes unsaid is the implication that they can keep their money too. This implied we do completely away with the sting and the radical edge of this passage of Scripture. It is just this dismissal of the radical sayings of Jesus that causes folk to miss the Kingdom. The Kingdom is about radical choices, ultimate commitments, giving away all we have, leaving all we have, taking persecution, being last so others can be first. It is the proof of whether we have chosen to follow Jesus or not. I am not at all speaking of a salvation by works, but one of a real and genuine faith that counts the cost and is willing to pay it. Without real faith we cannot be saved, and without a faith that is lived out in very practical ways one can question whether or not someone really has it. How can we preach the Kingdom without calling people to real Kingdom choices? Before someone accuses me of universalizing the call of Jesus to this rich man as applicable to all wealthy people let me say I do not know if Jesus is calling on you, the reader, to sell everything you have and give it to the poor. I am saying Jesus does universalize the dilemma of the rich. He says it is hard for them to enter the Kingdom. I would say it is hard for all of us to make choices that cost us everything, or seem to cost us everything, or that will demand real sacrifice. I would universalize that issue of choice, which is really the issue of idols. Will we follow Jesus and trust Jesus to take care of us, or do we want to follow Jesus with our material suitcases so as to make sure we can live in the style to which we have grown accustomed? Among American Christians I see this struggle over radical choices played out most when it comes to our children. We can’t take them into the inner city, we can’t take them to the mission field, because we are responsible for their safety and happiness. We can’t expect them to be happy in a cross cultural church with kids from the hood when they can find so much more happiness in a full service mega church that provides all their needs. Shouldn’t we let our children decide what church our family should be in based on their feelings of security and expressions of where they are comfortable? My short answer is, “nope.” What middle class child wouldn’t want to be in an environment where everything is provided, not threatening, and caters to his or her self-indulgence? One of the interesting things to me is to see missionaries shelter their children in American schools wherein their kids spend most of their “cultural” experience as tourists in buses that pass by the masses, get tightly wrapped around their own families, and begin to see missionary service as a family business and not as a risky and sacrificial choice. What I see most often is the creation of an Evangelical elite, in the name of helping our children to grasp a “Christian World and Life View.” The view from here is that it looks like the same old status quo and not too radically Christian at all. I thank the Lord for the four children the Lord gave us, one adopted and three by birth, all of them Covenant children and all of them ours. I love them, want the best for them, want them to be smart and well educated, want them to have every door opened for them if possible. I don’t want any harm to come to them. I really would like them to have every material opportunity and not to be poor or have to suffer. If the truth be told I want the same for myself. Our struggle as a family, as parents, as children is that we are sinners and we love our idols. These choices are as hard for us as anyone. At the same time I want my children to be the kind of folks of whom the world is not worthy. I want them to be radical, completely committed, awe inspiring spiritual people who follow Jesus in all that they do. I want them to shake and shape the world for the glory of Christ. I would like to be that kind of person too. Can these two desires work together, are they mutually opposing? My take from the teaching of Jesus is that they are mutually exclusive if we cannot hold our stuff, our possessions, and even our families, with loose hands. Wouldn’t it be great to live so for Jesus, so focused on him and his kingdom that you didn’t care about worldly stuff, but he kept making you rich anyway? I think that is the way it ought to happen, that if money is what Jesus wants you to have he forces it on you. All the stuff about generous giving, stewardship, managing our money in a Biblical way is fine if we don’t come to the conclusion that the kingdom is about us being out of debt, having great investments, and leaving lots of stuff for our children when we die. I believe in every Scriptural principal, but I don’t want my faith disguised or distorted as American entrepreneurial and pragmatic genius. It can become just another congregation of materialism in the Prosperity Gospel Denomination. It is the obedience that comes from faith that we seek. We are not preaching the kingdom, or living it, if we mask the hard choices for ourselves, our children, and our churches. Mark 10:29ff. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

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