I’ve been told I can be very critical. I have always enjoyed contemplating issues I have no business assessing and attempting to solve problems way beyond my limited intellect. I can’t help it; it’s just the way I’m wired. I had a professor in college who coined the phrase, “hopeful cynicism.” I hated it—did he not see the blatant contradiction? But truth be told, he was giving a name to my type. Yes, my name is David Rohde and I am a recovering hopeful cynic.
I spent a long time seeking a call in the U.S. before realizing that God wanted to teach me a few things in Africa. During my search, a very wise woman said, “Dave, it doesn’t surprise me that you haven’t found a call yet—I’m not too sure I see you in a traditional pastoral role.” What! The words stung. And she continued, “Think about it, you have always been one to challenge the status quo, to question what is going on and why it is happening, and until you find the church that is willing to be pushed in that way your search will continue.” My brain’s cynical cog immediately began to spin but screeched to a halt as I realized my dear friend was quite right. I am very critical of the Church and the people that it is composed of. But it’s only because I care deeply for the body of Christ and the message we are supposed to be sending to the world.
One of the many blessings of being in Africa has been escaping the everyday use of unneeded technology. Before we left Hailey and I relished the idea of nights with books instead of television, writing instead of wiing (google became a verb, can’t wii be one as well?) and hearing silence instead of a stereo. Don’t get me wrong, I literally cried over not having Internet (and surprise surprise—now that we have it, I find myself wasting plenty of time with drivel of little importance). During our first few weeks my best friends were Henri Nouwen, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Malcolm Gladwell. Their books told of great tales, encouraged me and even fed my hopeful cynicism. Now I found myself pushed and pulled by the great minds of Dale Bruner and Francis Chan.
Last week I had the opportunity to preach six sermons, one right after the other. Being that I had little time to prep, I chose to preach on Jesus’ parables. Six parables, one a day. Seems easy enough right? Bruner and Chan showed me otherwise. I’ve been stuck on Jesus’ words at the end of the Parable of the Sower, “Let anyone with ears, listen!” Pastors and Christian speakers spend countless hours trying to figure out how to make their next message accessible and more appealing to anyone and everyone. We take classes, go to workshops and read books about ‘Performing the Word’ (seriously, I had a book in seminary with that title). We choose our words carefully and try to think of engaging and relevant illustrations in an attempt to make the most attractive story ever told even more attractive—as if it is even possible. Yet Jesus tells us that the people who are really going to pay attention—to allow the Gospel to completely change and shape their lives—already have the ears to listen. It’s humbling really, and equally terrifying.
It’s terrifying because too many Christians (including pastors) have not heard the message that, for many of us, has been preached our entire lives. It’s time that we ask, “how does the power of God’s Word transform how we act and live every second of every hour of every day?” We follow Jesus up to a point—only until His Word confronts our lifestyle, politic, relationships or expectations. We want a safe and balanced life that we can control. Too bad that surrendering to Scripture guarantees none of those things and promises quite the opposite. It’s tough to swallow because it contradicts the glamorous life that we are often fed from the pulpits of pop-theology (when was the last time you heard a good sermon on Philippians 3:10?). Please don’t misunderstand me—we are promised that a life lived under the authority of Jesus is indeed one of abundance. But it’s an abundance that we do not deserve, cannot earn and costs us our very lives. When will we start listening?