Rational Sacrifice

This morning, I received an alert on my phone notifying me that Millennial Journal had named me their 2017 Millennial of the Year. The recognition is both an honor and a bit embarrassing. I have such great respect for Millennial Journal, and so to be recognized by them is touching and means a great deal. I'm the first American to receive the honor since they started naming their Millennial of the Year five years ago, and Malala was their first recipient. I do not belong in any category with Malala.

What I was most grateful for is the thoughtful article that the editors wrote, and particularly how they pulled out some of the ideas they identified from my work as contributions to our public discourse. In our work, it is sometimes difficult to tell for certain that what you intend to communicate is actually being received as you intend it to, and so it is rewarding to see some of the driving motivations of your work identified by others. 

You can read the full article here.

The main purpose of this blog post, however, is to just quickly address an interesting clause in the article, in bold below: 

Extremely skilled and politically adept, if he placed his ascent in the party above his faith, he would have had an easy path to positions of greater and greater power and prestige. Instead, he has chosen faithfulness.

First, again, obviously the editors are very kind and generous. 

Second, this assessment is probably right--I'd be lying if I said I had not thought about some of the costs involved with the direction my work has taken. Then again, who knows!? God really does work in mysterious ways, and so often situations take turns that could not have been planned or predicted. 

But here's the point I want to make:

Over the last couple of years, we've seen political circumstances drive a number of Christians take positions and make changes that do not seem to make much sense. Mark DeMoss stepped down from the board of Liberty University, a campus that bears his family's name over and over again. Beth Moore decided she had to start speaking out politically. Tim Farron, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK, stepped down from his post in party leadership because he determined it was required in order for him to fully serve both God and his neighbors. Jemar Tisby recently tweeted that he has "lost money, professional opportunities, and relationships to move into a situation where I can speak openly and authentically. It's a constant struggle but, that freedom is worth the price and I can't recommend it highly enough."

What I want to communicate (and I think they would agree, though I don't wish to speak for them) is that I certainly hope that whatever positions I've taken and whatever sacrifices I have made will have an impact on our politics and the debates of our time. I certainly hope that my efforts result in some identifiable change here on earth. I think we're called to improve the circumstances of our community and our culture as Christians. 

But that was not my primary motivation. What I hope my decisions will provoke people to see, what I see when I look at someone like Beth Moore, is that whatever sacrifices are made are not really sacrifices at all. What Jesus promises to us when he said that the kingdom of God was now present among us is His security. The eternal life Jesus offers is one in which faithfulness is rational--it is just the obvious way to be. I have never met any Christian who has regretted faithfulness, and the reason for that is we worship a God who wills our good.

This is not to say that there is no pain or cost involved. Discipleship is, indeed, costly. What it means is that Jesus opens up possibilities for freedom that are closed without Him. 

In Matthew 13, Jesus is helping his disciples understand these possibilities that were now available to them. He tells them: "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field" (Matthew 13:44).

Only with Jesus can a person sell all that they have in joy. Only Jesus can make good on the kind of process that would justify such sacrifice, and He does. All of the time. 

I know I have disappointed Jesus many times in my life. I know my steps have faltered. But ever since I trusted my lot with Jesus, even as I try and work towards trusting my lot with him more fully as I grow in the faith, Jesus has never disappointed me. 

As some Christians engage in politics for the first time, perhaps even motivated by my book or other aspects of my work, it's good to aim to have impact. People who engage politically with no aim as to the effect of their efforts treat politics as entertainment and their neighbors' welfare too lightly. 

But I hope we will all remember in politics and in life that the outcome of our efforts is not what justifies faithfulness. Faithfulness is its own justification.