Riches & the Kingdom of God: A Response to Wednesday Night Wardrobe

This post is my response to the post Wednesday Night Wardrobe.

“Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke recount the same scene, a scene where a wealthy young man seeks acceptance by Jesus, the Good Teacher [Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30]. This young man first recognizes that the kingdom Jesus proclaims is truly what he desires. He approaches acceptance into this kingdom with the only understanding he has, earning favor through following a rule. The situation that Jesus addresses with the young wealthy man is the same issue facing Jake and his favorite t-shirt.

Ethical dilemmas in the Christian life and in the church always begin with questions. The questions asked by both Jake and the wealthy young man point to the same answer stemming from the same issue. The problem is, the questions Jake and the wealthy young man in the gospels ask are not the right questions. These two young men really ask the same question without realizing it; “Jesus, will you accept me?”

“This is my favorite t-shirt. Can I wear it to youth group on Wednesday night?”

Like most of us, Jake truly wants to belong and has learned he must earn acceptance. Earning acceptance always leads to submission and change. In seeking to belong, Jake finds comfort in his music, which leads to his wardrobe, a favorite t-shirt promoting his favorite heavy metal band. The music is inviting. Jake has placed his trust in his own desires. What he likes he treasures and this becomes his treasure, his source of wealth, and ultimately his idol.

The guitar licks and smooth beat of the music allow Jake to escape the dilemmas he faces every day as a young man struggling to find acceptance. His immaturity and the perceived dysfunction in his family life drive him to find any place of escape where he can vent his frustration. In his process of self-discovery come other friends with similar musical taste. A social group forms of like-minded adolescents escaping reality together.

Jake is also seeking authority while at the same time rebelling against authority. God has designed all people to grow from child to adult being guided by authority of parents or parental figures. He reveals himself as Father who sends His Son to establish authority over sin and death. Jake’s appeal to Wednesday night youth group stems from several factors. He sees a healthy environment for loving acceptance with peers and adults who point him to the truth of Christ. However, the influence of the heavy metal culture has steered Jake away from what he knows instinctively. Two worlds pull on Jake. God loves him and Jake truly desires God’s favor.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:21

Jake’s treasure is his heavy metal world. This world of vulgar lyrics and hate spewed energy calls Jake to behave the same way. Rebellion toward his mother, church, and authority of any kind is not blamed on the music. But, the music clearly feeds the anger in Jake. His strongest influence is the world of heavy metal. Jake faces a spiritual struggle, one of looking for acceptance but stumbling in his search.

The other side of the spiritual struggle in Jake is an inherent sense of truth. Jake is made in God’s image and in that truth Jake senses something else must be calling him. “…that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” [1 Timothy 2:3-4]

Jake recognizes that the kingdom Jesus proclaims is truly what he desires. He approaches acceptance into this kingdom with the only understanding he has, earning favor through following a rule.

Adults at church have reached out to Jake in various ways. The 80s heavy metal band that Jake loves is also a band many of the adults connected with in their adolescent years. This is a generational connection between Jake and the adults he encounters at church. Through their experience with this same music, these adults can model for Jake the proper place of worldly things. They discovered a greater truth and can lead Jake by example. Unfortunately, when any adult speaks to Jake, he withdraws assuming they are condemning him. He has a past of negative encounters with adults who fail in guiding him and only condemn him as a wild teenager. Jake would definitely benefit from positive generational connections that guide him to Christ.

Jake’s question about his favorite t-shirt is the same question the young wealthy man asks Jesus. It is the same question we all ask when coming to the cross of Jesus Christ. “Can I still hold on to my idols? Do I have to give up my own created comforts? Jesus loves me just as I am so do I have to give up what gives me identity to become like Christ?”

Jesus’ response is yes. Our self-made comforts are idols that hinder our submission to Jesus Christ’s Lordship and authority. The peace Jake seeks will not come from Christ when Christ is not first. If his world of heavy metal music comes before the peace of Jesus Christ, then Jesus is not Lord and Jake will not receive peace.

“And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, ‘ One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” – Mark 10:21

Adults in the church love Jake. The friends he has in Wednesday night youth group love him too. As Jake becomes more a part of the Christ-like family at church, he realizes the struggle between the two worlds calling him to belong.

Should Jake wear his heavy metal t-shirt to Wednesday night youth group?

The answer is that as Jake begins to follow Christ’s call to the Kingdom of God, Jake’s identity will begin to change, becoming more like Christ little by little. No adult has asked Jake to not wear his t-shirt. Jake is asking permission to wear his t-shirt because he is like the wealthy young man who asks Jesus what he must to do to inherit eternal life. Jake is asking what he must do to be accepted.

Jake’s question about the t-shirt is truly a question about salvation. The only answers will come from the adults Jake is asking. These adult Christians will love Jake enough to tell him the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jake will begin to feel more accepted by the family of God through their love and gentle guidance. In time, Jake will give up his idols and embrace the truth of Jesus Christ. He will then desire to model the Christians around him as they influence his attitude.

“But at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property.” – Mark 10:22

The answer for Jake’s question is not in how the wealthy young man responded to Jesus’ compassionate answer. This gospel narrative ends in tragic rejection. Jesus does not push the wealthy young man away. The wealthy young man walks away from compassionate truth mistaking it for a rule he can not obey. He chooses his idols over Jesus.

Jake’s real question about his t-shirt points to the real question he wants to ask.

“Jesus, can you forgive me and accept me?” Jesus will always answer, “Yes!”

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